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An Advent Gift: An Interview with Michael O’Brien

Michael O'Brien
Michael O’Brien

Perhaps the most prolific living Catholic author in the English language, Michael O’Brien has been thrilling us with theologically rich and emotionally poignant works of fiction for over twenty years. He recently returned to finish one of his most popular tales – Fr. Elijah – with the sequel, Fr. Elijah in Jerusalem. The short (by O’Brien standards) tale picks up the thread of the Fr. Elijah story, following the priest and his trusted companion into a pre-apocalyptic Jerusalem. Fr. Elijah knows that he must confront the mysterious “President” – that “man of sin” who may or may not be the anti-Christ – though he does not understand God’s purpose and meaning until the moment of the climactic encounter. Fr. Elijah in Jerusalem is ultimately a moving work which once again presents us with O’Brien’s ability to weave deep spiritual insight into a work of fiction. Doing just what fictional literature is meant to do, O’Brien spins a riveting tale while building a profound spiritual retreat into the tale. Fans of the work will enjoy this loving postscript to this story, while new readers should start with the original Fr. Elijah, after which they will certainly reach for the sequel.

I had the distinct pleasure of being able to recently interview Mr. O’Brien. We spoke of everything from his career to aesthetics to the apocalyptic imagery in his books, with the author gracing us with profound and detailed answers. Whether or not you are a fan of O’Brien’s work, he is a Catholic author and artist who has built a career and survived it personally, despite the remarkably hostile culture opposed to Catholic art along with the limited means by which to make a living. As such, O’Brien’s wise words can only be published as “an Advent Gift.”


MN: At what point in your career did you decide to become an explicitly Catholic artist and author? Was this always your intended path, or did God bring you to a different perspective on your creative vocation?

O’Brien: After my conversion (rather, reversion) to the Catholic faith at age 21, I began to draw and paint. It was a gift that sprang up within me unexpectedly, without training or yearning for it. As the trickle became of flood of creativity, I soon had some success in the art world, with exhibits of my images of nature and human scenes. However, I gradually came to desire something more. I asked why it seemed so impossible to be a Christian artist painting the explicit themes of our Faith. In 1976, after much prayer and discernment, my wife and I made the decision to give our lives to serve Christ and his Church through overtly Christian art. We hoped for the impossible to happen, and expected we would survive maybe a year at the most. However, against all odds, and through much trial and tribulation, the vocation steadily grew and grew, and now almost forty years later, I continue in this “impossible” calling. Prayer and sacrifice have been at the foundation….without these it would have ended a long time ago.

MN: One of the themes I’ve caught in numerous of your works seems to be a commentary on aesthetic health (or lack-there-of), and how this can positively or negatively effect the life of the spirit. Do you see a positive (or potentially positive) link between tradition, good Catholic art, and the New Evangelization?

O’Brien: Images give visible form to aspects of reality, including our Faith, that are invisible. Moreover, if an artist is steadily growing in skill united to God’s grace, then new visual “words” speak to contemporary man. If these are also beautiful, then truths are evoked in the human heart—sometimes truths that we have been deprived of by the global social revolution that has robbed man of his own true Story, his identity and eternal value. Music, for example, if it is true and beautiful, even when it is without lyrics, can evoke within the soul an understanding that we are far more than merely bio-mechanisms or clever talking beasts. This in turn can open the path to a person asking the fundamental questions of existence: Who am I?, Why am I?, Where am I going? What is my value? Works that are implicitly religious can be very fruitful in this regard. However there is as great a need for overtly Christian works that help reveal the glory of creation and the immensity of the Good News of revelation. In a historical era that denies the sacredness of life at every turn, that decapitates creation, so to speak, and that gives us a false sense of the meaning of our lives, authentic art can point the way to a true restoration. I do not think the New Evangelization will be fruitful through words alone. Grace and Beauty are also needed to make visible and attractive the realm of our living Saviour and his Kingdom.

MN: The end of Fr. Elijah was very beautiful, and given how it melted from modern prose into a more biblical style of writing, I was surprised that you wrote and released a sequel. Elijah in Jerusalem is a short work by your standards, and by my estimation reads like a loving postscript for your fans. Can you speak to your motivation when it came to writing this book?

O’Brien: Though the possibility of a sequel was often suggested to me by readers, I rejected the idea for many years. I wanted readers of Fr. Elijah to return to the world with refreshed eyes, and with renewed hunger for the living Word of God in Scripture. However, during the past few years powerful images and scenes for the continuing story kept arising in my imagination, begging to be set down on paper. So I prayed and waited. Then came a moment when it was clear that I should write Elijah in Jerusalem, and that the time was now—20 years after writing Fr. Elijah. Even so, the sequel also ends in a kind of suspense, pointing the way onward to Scripture and the actual unfolding of salvation history.

MN: I was struck by Fr. Elijah’s celebrating the TLM in your latest book, a detail I do not recall from the previous volume. Seeing as the post-Motu Proprio Church has witnessed a resurgence in beautiful liturgy (and in relation to it, authentic Catholic art and vocations), can you comment about how you see this movement within the Church?

O’Brien: I see it as an essential part (though not an exclusive one) of a larger restoration. In essence, this restoration is redirecting people of faith to our primary duty as God’s creatures, that is to worship Him in spirit and in truth. I would add, to worship him in beauty integrated with spirit and truth. In all the rites in which the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered (I believe there are at least 18 liturgical rites within the Catholic Church), the crucial question is: who is being worshiped? Clearly, anthropocentric or sociological liturgies are a tragically stunted version of worship, and sometimes verge on sacrilege. If the Mass is truly Christocentric and faithful to the liturgical norms, then God is worshipped in our Eucharistic Saviour Jesus, and we are drawn into deeper union with him. Another way of putting it is: the languages of love are many, but we must take care that it is authentic love—which is always reverent, never trivializing the sacred.

MN: You seem to go out of your way to expose your readers to other great Catholic writers and artists. For my part, I discovered GM Hopkins through your work; reading Hopkins at the same time as your deeply moving Island of the World broke something in me that lead to my own first violin concerto, Fragments. (The third movement is in fact titled “When Kingfishers Catch Fire.”) I also recall a moment from Island of the World where you described the depth of innocent childish joy, and when I saw my own little boy express such joy at the sound of beautiful wind chimes (whose sound, in turn, was written into the introduction of my concerto.) I share these personal events because I suspect an intentional artistic synergy in your work, a conscious attempt to shirk the alienation of modern academia and bring modern Catholic artists and their admirers back under the same tent. Can you speak more to this?

O’Brien: I’m delighted you know Hopkins’ “Kingfishers Catch Fire”, a powerful, stirring poem, and that you’ve interpreted it musically. In my novels I like to weave into the stories and characterizations moments of the ineffable, where man encounters the mysteriously beautiful. Moments of wonder in the presence of beauty in the world can open the eyes of the heart in the way that the purely rational cannot. We may study philosophy with dedication and become doctors of the subject, and yet fail to reach a point where we become lovers of wisdom. Plato says that philosophy is born of wonder. So too is poetry. So too is love. We are more than we think we are. Created in the image and likeness of God, we have need of moments when we sense in the depths of our being that we are involved in something phenomenal, something miraculous really. While an academic approach to culture can surely offer us certain tools of rational assessment of phenomena, it can never give us what might be called “depth perception.” The man with one eye may see a thing well and articulate what he sees brilliantly; but the man with two eyes sees the same thing with depth. Needless to say, I am not for a moment denying the value of the pursuit of learning. However, I am concerned by the way much of the intellectual and cultural life of our people is dominated by the academic mind. In short, culture is not knowledge alone. In a healthy society, reason, intuition, and creativity work in a complementary, integrated way. When young people who want to become artists ask me if they should obtain Fine Arts degrees, I urge them not to pursue that path. I encourage them to look at the world with wonder, to labor hard to develop their skills, to paint and draw and sculpt with love. And to persevere under all circumstances.

MN: You are also a painter and iconographer, and delineate the “restoration of Christian culture” as part of your personal mission statement. Beyond the central pursuit of sainthood, is there anything cultural that you think Catholics can do in order to hasten such a restoration?

O’Brien: Catholics in general need to “un-plug” from the nearly universal dominance of commercial entertainment culture, by which I mean electronic culture. If we were to do so, we would no longer fear silence, and we would experience a new richness of life as we move away from the psychological cosmos of frantic consumerism. We would also grow in gratitude, reverence, and attentiveness to the holy, which is all around us. But we first have to recognize that we’ve been drugged—yes we believers, no less than unbelievers. If we hope for a true new renaissance, we will have to first of all deal with our addiction to mediocrity, and at the same time keep our eyes open for those creative buds of new life that rise up, against all odds, in the midst of the soul-killing tsunami of contemporary culture. We must encourage this new life wherever it appears. We must give the coming generation the courage to believe in the impossible.

MN: Who would be some of your favorite modern Catholic creatives? Does Michael O’Brien have his own favorite artists who help him to tap in to his own creative faculties?

O’Brien: Strange to say, I rarely read contemporary fiction, so my answer probably would exclude some very fine writers. For me, Solzhenitsyn has been a light, especially his novel Cancer Ward. Also Dostoevsky, particularly his novel The Idiot. And then there’s Tolkien, who has breathed a bracing sense of the ultimate real into the modern age with his sub-created “fantasy” The Lord of the Rings. In the visual arts, a wide range of painters have deeply moved me, notably Georges Rouault, mainly for his fidelity as a Catholic, and to art as a vocation. One of my main inspirations has been the life and work of William Kurelek, a Canadian Catholic painter who died in 1977, and whose biography I wrote (William Kurelek: Painter and Prophet, Justin Press, Ottawa, 2013). He gave me much good counsel when I was a young painter just beginning my work. I am also very fond of the works of El Greco and Marc Chagall. Well, hundreds of others as well.

MN: We’ve spoken of the aesthetic life of the average Catholic, but this is often influenced by the patronage and formation of the Church proper. By your experience and estimation, how well is the relationship between the Church proper and her artists going? Is there room for improvement?

O’Brien: I’ve painted many church commissions over the years, for which I’m very grateful. However, in general, liturgical art is not in good condition. It’s largely dominated by “religious” factory art, which is overwhelmingly superficial, saccharine, and soulless. Alternatively, it’s meaningless abstraction, which is the product of artists succumbing to the diktats of the reigning theories of art history—academic manifestos, peer pressure, ambition, the desire to be in tune with the zeitgeist. Even so, profound creative intuition does sometimes peek above the surface of the snow, like spring flowers appearing in the midst of winter. Art is ever springing up, just when the theoreticians pronounce it dead.

MN: So much of your work involves apocalyptic imagery and storytelling. Do you think that we are living in or near such times? 

O’Brien: I think so, though I would be happy to be wrong about this. In our times, unprecedented apocalyptic signs are emerging all around us. Certainly, there have been lesser apocalypses throughout our history, but none with the magnitude and character we are now facing. I keep always in mind the Lord’s warning that we must “stay awake and watch at all times,” a warning which applies to every generation. We know that at some point there will be a generation that will be put to the test in a radical, absolute way, a global persecution of all those who follow Jesus. The generation which is least awake, which has been lulled to sleep by sin and error, drugged by pleasures and by deceptions, will be the very one that the Antichrist will dominate. My purpose in writing fiction that examines apocalyptic questions is to ask my own generation, “Are we awake?” and equally important, “Are we spiritually prepared, if these are the times foretold by the prophets and by Jesus himself?”

The entire post-Resurrection era is the Last Days, and there remains only a final, ultimate battle to be completed. “Little children, it is the final hour,” says St. John (I John: 2:18), and in an alternative English translation, “Children, it is the last days.” Yet the time of Antichrist and his False Prophet is not the end of the End, not the end of the world. According to sacred Scripture, there will be granted to the world an era of peace after the time of Antichrist—“a thousand years of peace.” (see Revelation, chapters 19 and 20). But we must not mistake this period as a literal millennium. In Biblical language it represents a prolonged period of time. I would also recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 675-677, to your readers.

MN: For every creative artist, there is a different story as to how their works take shape. Some artists begin with a strict formal plan, while others (Tolkien comes to mind) sets off on the adventure and sees where it may lead him. The Father’s Tale was a book I read as I was just beginning my own journey of fatherhood, and – like many of your books – it has left a lasting mark in this particular area of my life. When you set out to write such a work, do you have such a direct formative goal in mind (in this case, to inspire fathers), or do the books emerge in a less direct or even surprising way?

O’Brien: Usually my novels begin with an interior sense of the core meaning of the work, its logos. As I write, the narrative and characterizations begin to flow—setting off on the adventure, as you put it so well. The story almost writes itself, the form gradually coming into focus, along with plot and details. At every step of the way I am praying daily for the co-creative grace—inspiration working together with my natural imagination, which Tolkien called the “baptized imagination.”  I just let the story pour out, and then when a first draft is completed I work through the book again and again with a more analytical eye, editing as I go.

MN: Your fans are hoping for at least a dozen more novels. Can you speak of what you may be working on or planning at the moment?

O’Brien: My publisher Ignatius Press and I are presently working on the editing stage of my next novel, which is titled The Fool of New York City, scheduled for publication in 2016. It’s a kind of fairy-tale for grownups—somewhat of a departure from my other novels, but I suppose all my books are departures, each in its own way.


Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a musical composer, writer, and the Curator of Music for the Foundation for Sacred Arts in Chicago. He blogs at 

16 thoughts on “An Advent Gift: An Interview with Michael O’Brien”

  1. Thank you for this interview. It was an early Christmas present for me as I have read Michael for many years. I thoroughly enjoyed “Elijah in Jerusalem.” I can’t tell how many times I’ve read “Father Elijah” and Michael’s other novels because I don’t have that many fingers and toes. Thanks again, and a blessed Christmas to you and yours.

  2. Dr. Nowakowski

    Thank you. As Mr. Galloway wrote this is indeed an
    “an early Christmas present”

    And a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    God bless

    RIchard W Comerford

  3. Strange. I recently went back and re-read Father Elijah after having read it 20 years ago. The book is remarkably prescient about the state of the Church today, with the twist that we have Francis at the helm instead of the stalwart man of faith in the book.

    Here are some fun quotes:

    At least the U.S. bishops have got it right. They’re trying to decentralize, trying to get power back into regional governments.

    Leftists only like decentralization when it involves something depraved. Then, once the depravity is ensconced, it’s back to running the machine at full tilt.

    German Bishops Protest Vatican’s Refusal to Grant Communion to Divorced Couples; New Spiritualities Needed in Western Church, Says Visiting Animator; Dealing with Sex Abuse by Priests; Democracy Needed in Church, Says Conference of Lay Leaders. . . .

    Maybe Mr. O’Brien already knew of the German Church’s love of money?

    In the space of a few short years we have seen events pass from relative stability to increasing chaos.


    And shouldn’t we be open to all sides, provide a forum for dialogue, keep everyone listening to each other? Listening!

    Dr. Dialogue, S.J.

    The growth of regionalism in some corners of Western Catholicism only appears to foster a heightened sense of identity; in reality it contributes to the corruption of identity.

    Identity is dead, even in the gender realm.

    In the space of a few short years we have seen events pass from relative stability to increasing chaos. It’s accelerating rapidly. I could not have foreseen the speed at which it has happened.”

    Me neither. It’s why I drink.

    The book is more salient now than in the middle 90s.

    • These are all good examples. But the book takes a sort of JPII medium, which hurts its relevance a lot. I forget what objectionable phrasings there might have been, but it’s less about that, and more that in a book which dwells on so many great ideas, the absence of a critique of liberalism in the West and in the Church is a statement in itself. Well, there may have been a weak critique. It’s hard to remember, and I should re-read it. But I got the impression that everything was going fine in the wake of the council, and it was only in the latter days that crisis had come in the West and the Church, which is seriously misguided.

      • The critique is certainly present across his books. It is just that O’Brien – being a deft writer – often shows the cultural result as the pointer to the philosophical source. There is also, by relation, a strong critique of aesthetic and intellectual modernism in his books.

        • I realize this, and I appreciate that mode of critique as being a very suitable one—yet, I have still come away feeling he has left something out, has let part of the great lie of modernity pass by as though it were ok. Like I said, I guess I need to re-read to refine my own criticism.

      • I think all the clues are there and it’s easy to put the pieces together. For a work of fiction, a novel, it would be heavy-handed to go full Dostoevski and have long maunders over philosophy, theology and world affairs come out of the mouths of the characters.

        Reference is made to Bl. Newman’s reflections on the antichrist in the author’s intro and I would suggest looking these up on the Internet. (They are available.) They are of course steeped in the patristic understanding of the topic. Frankenkirch walks and talks like the spirit of antichrist.

        Sorry folks, but I’m over trying to put a nice varnish on the current occupier of the Chair of Peter. My sins and failings are innumerable, but I still know right from wrong. I am only surprised (or not) at my own willingness to tune out and become indifferent since I’ve read so much on the topic of the Church’s collapse. As a failed Christian, I can identify with the weakness of the Apostles on a level that I never have before been able to in my life.

        “Even the elect…”

        I feel this truth every day on some level and, like the apostles, I feel ready to scatter in fourteen thousand directions.

        Despair porn: Without trying to sound critical, I’ll share my thoughts on 1P5 and CM and other apostolates. They do good work, but there’s a point where ordinary peons adopt a feeling of learned helplessness. The fact is, we are a tiny minority and have zero control over the direction of our dioceses or even parishes. Like the Fr. Riehl case, I learned from personal experience many years ago that one only needs to levy the charge of “not feeling safe” or “putting individuals in harm’s way” to know that it’s a cinch to squelch any atavistic movements within the Church. The charges don’t need to be justified or have anything like a rational basis. If they come out of the mouth of a woman or effeminate man, the label sticks and the cause is sunk. Mention putting children “at risk” and therein is the icing on the cake. Unless “at risk” is in reference to sexual depravity, then it’s healthy and wholesome.

        I chose to cut out the Catholic outlets for a while during Advent, but for a lot of us who have no real life Catholic people to live our lives with, this is hard, even harder than the path of learned helplessness. Again, I only have admiration for the work being done by outlets such as this. I am only reminding that apocalyptic meditations, doom n’ gloom and so on can too easily become the dominant factor in our thoughts and we become victims to the unhealthiest siege mentality. It’s probably not the case for Catholics who have other Catholics to lean on in IRL. Parish life is a morgue.

        I’ve read numerous complaints on another site from converts and cradles alike that liturgy leaves them feeling empty and broken. There are no pat answers about the Eucharist being the means of overcoming the emptiness. I know the feeling well. I worry that despair porn — the death of the West, the death of marriage, the enthronement of degeneracy and self-love to the exclusion of all else — when ruminated on on a too frequent basis will actually only increase the exodus. In the last ten years, this exodus has become a stampede.

        • I think I understand at least some of what you are saying. One thing that struck me is: should it be termed “despair porn” if it is reality? I certainly think “despair” is a good word, and the way I explain it to myself is that, since we are mystically linked in the Body of Christ, we are sharing this experience and it comes to our consciousness, not only from reading or seeing/experiencing things in our daily life, but also from deep places within us.

          It seems to me that, no matter how far one wants to go back in an attempt to pinpoint where in time this “crisis” (or whatever word is used) may have begun to manifest itself – 100 years, 200 years, 50 years – it has all reached a point now where we would have to be blind, completely blind, not to see it or feel it. We may desperately want to turn it off, to look away, to run and hide somehow…but as David said: Where can we go away from His presence? We are always in His presence. Being in His presence, in these days, seems to include being aware of this “thing.” People appear to be all over the map as they attempt to find words to express “it”, almost as if we subconsciously may think that if we can pin it down and reduce it to a word or a statement (all the various “isms” or a council or a pope or an infiltration or whatever, well then we have it contained in a way we can understand it, because we want the feeling of control of understanding it and we want to be able to do something or see a way to fix it.

          My personal opinion is that yes, we are a “tiny minority”, actually a remnant. There may be a billion “Catholics” in this world, but what does that even mean anymore? Yes, Satan hates us, and he hates all human beings. I wonder sometimes if the majority of the human beings in the world today even bother to hate the Church so much. Why should they? Is what they see as the Church really giving them any problem? It seems that we are the ones having the problem. We’re the ones who feel like we’re being crucified. We’re the ones who may feel we’re being tempted to abandon the Lord. Do our mighty “princes” of the Church, the ones who actually have the power and authority, act as if they share that feeling? How many can you count?

          With the exception of a few little points of light scattered here and there, the institutional Church symbolized in its shepherds and leaders who are seen by the world, looks like nothing more than a little neglected dog, panting and running and chasing the filthy, trailing robes of a World gone utterly mad…evil, perverted and rushing at the speed of light into utter darkness and oblivion. The little dog wants nothing more than to be noticed, to get a bit of attention, a pat on the head, a few crumbs from the table.

          All that is not my Lord, my Jesus, my King. I feel alone and I feel broken. I go to Mass and I end up literally closing my eyes and doing everything I can almost not to hear and see what goes on, until the Liturgy of the Eucharist begins. I can never tune out the homily, though I wish I could. I try not to watch as every single person gets up like robots and files up to receive, when I know that I go to our one time offered for confession every two weeks and most times my husband and I are the only ones there, or there may be 2 or 3 more. I do what I can to go inside myself and find a place to feel the presence of God, but it usually doesn’t work. There is hardly ever even 10 seconds of quiet in that place. I hold myself very still and I don’t look around, and though my hands are clasped in prayer, underneath my fingernails are digging holes into the palms because I want to cry…no I want to wail out loud. I go so I can receive the Eucharist.

          • Thank you, Mary. You’ve eloquently expressed the reality so many of us deal with on a constant basis.

            I have to be honest: As an editor, I keep trying to pull away from the train wreck, and it keeps pulling me back. It’s a constant battle: the true, the good, the beautiful vs. the horrible catastrophe. We try to strike a balance. I hope we’re succeeding.

          • I’ve often thought about you and other good Catholic men and women, who blog…including some of our priests. Same way I think about the distinct possibility that we have some bishops, archbishops and cardinals who really see things even we can’t see because they know more than we do. Of popes I don’t want to speak. If you (not you in the specific, but the generic “you”) let loose the totality of all of it, then you run the risk of scaring folks half to death or of being mocked and labeled as crazy nutters with some awful agenda. Then some people might run away. They ran away from the prophets of Scripture, and they ran away from Jesus.

            In other words – you would be treated like the prophets were treated. I wouldn’t want to be in your position. The thing is, though, that gifts of wisdom and discernment and prophecy are real and they are being given to people today, as they always have been. Our “today” just absolutely cannot, I think, be viewed as other times in the history of the Church or the world. This is my most deep conviction. At some point in time in our world, the “last days” of mercy, of God waiting for people to come to salvation, will draw to a close and the other end times will begin. We don’t know exactly how that will look.

            Our Church is over 2000 years old. We have, by now, had so many teachings, interpretations, councils, encyclicals, theological understandings that we have reached the point where people absolutely can pick and choose. How can anyone believe deep in their hearts that our Church is now One and Holy? The Body of Christ is, but our Church? We are of Aquinas or one of the newer ones, we are of this pope or that pope, we are of this council or that council, this or that theologian, this or that liturgical practice.

            The World and the institutional Church reflect each other. Absent direct intervention by the Holy Spirit, this world is not coming back from the brink. We have things now that we never had before in the world. We have the human power to obliterate ourselves. The world, in general, is insane. God and the Church have been swept aside almost everywhere, including the United States. Do we see God stopping this? No.

            In the end times, will reality and Truth look good and beautiful to our eyes? Or will it look like “horrible catastrophe?” Whatever is going on in this world now could continue for a long time. Or maybe not. No one knows.

            And, just as a personal note, I’d like to say that I do not soak myself in reading apocalyptic literature or visiting such websites. I do not obsess with Fatima or Akita or any particular approved “prophetic word”, although I know what they say and I accept them. I have studied Scripture over the past 20 years, and I have studied the OT prophets, but I have never lingered in the Book of Apocalypse because I instinctively, I think, know that it is beyond my ability to understand and there has been too much garbage written about it by people who think they do understand. I did read the Father Elijah series and I think it is excellent. Because I have a lot of hours to pray, that is what I do. I pray the Divine Office, among other things, and I use the 1960 version, not the newer, “nicer” version. Almost every day, there is something in the Divine Office which leaps out and fires into my mind, saying “pay attention to this.”

          • Thanks for sharing.

            I went to a mission parish this weekend because I needed the rest on Sunday and wasn’t up to making the drive to the TLM. Confession doesn’t even show up on the schedule there. You have to drive to the other parish 30 miles away. I have been in this situation so many times in the past, of being at a parish where I had to track down a priest and “interrupt” his preparations or socializing. It’s just another barrier put up by the spirit of Vatican II.

            Confession was separated from liturgy many, many years ago after the Council even though it had been the norm for many centuries. In areas like where I live, this means that a frequent confession-er will have to drive round trip 50 or more miles on Saturday to get shriven.

            The idea behind this practice was to promote sacrilege. When confession is separated from liturgy, no one pauses to notice the people lined up to the confession boxes as they prepare for Mass. The lines aren’t there. Confession itself has become such a headache in many areas. I’m fortunate in that I go to a TLM in my diocese where the old custom has been kept.

            So out of curiosity, how often do you think the members of this small parish go to confession? There were maybe 15 people there, most of them elderly and retired. It’s the same everywhere though, where the practice has been to — I hate to say it — make the ritual inconvenient for people. Because confession is separated from Mass, all sorts of bad things come out of it.

            The most one can do I think is to find a house close to a trad parish and hope the bishop never shuts it down. I’m toying more and more with this idea myself will likely end up doing it in the next year or two. Selling my current house will be a bit of a problem because the area is dying.

            The NO liturgy on Sunday left me cold and it’s followed me all this week. If the parish closings have been disheartening thus far, prepare yourself for what’s coming in the next five years.

          • I am new to the parish I attend now, the one where I experience the things I talked about. My husband retired this past March and we moved to a small town in the mountains of north Georgia. Our parish is the only Catholic church around, for many miles, and people come from other counties. There are weekday morning masses and 3 masses on Sunday (one is Spanish). The Vigil and Sunday masses almost always pretty much fill the church…lots of old people (I am one of them). I’m not too good at this, but I’d say 200-300 souls at each mass.

            Confession is offered for 45 minutes before the Vigil Mass each week. The confessional is a little room off the narthex. We usually arrive sometime in the first 15 minutes of the allotted time. Only once, maybe twice, has Father been in the confessional when we got there. He may be hanging around talking to people, or someone has to go look for him. There are always people around, because a group rosary is said before Mass. The first time we went to confession, he was nowhere to be found and we had to wait for about 5 minutes. This is pure speculation on my part, but he seemed almost startled when he showed up.

            People milling around everywhere and the confessional room in plain sight. I was shocked two Saturdays ago when we showed up and there were 2 people ahead of us waiting to go into confession, then 3 more actually formed a line.

            There is a long story about how we ended up here, and whatever I say about this may make me look arrogant or presumptuous or something bad. But the truth is that I sought God with everything in me, praying long before we were able to leave the awful place we lived before, begging Him to send us to exactly the place He wanted us to be. And when we came here, to check out the area, we were given a place to stay and lots of time to decide. Every step we made was done in serious prayer, and we were ready to walk away at any minute if God didn’t want us here. When we engaged the services of a realtor, our first requirement was a house off the highway on which the church is located, and very close to the church. Our house purchase itself was a series of interventions by God, but we never allowed ourselves to “want” the house and up to almost the last day, we didn’t even know if the contract process would work out. I simply do not understand why, but I’ve been living all this long enough to know that the deeper I go, the less I am allowed to understand about certain things.

          • Yes, Mary, as Steve wrote, you’re not alone by any means. It’s even worse when you have private conversations or attend a Church Bible study and you find out how little people know of Church teachings or the Bible and how they love this pope. One woman, very prominent in our church, told me ” Francis is the pope for our time”, accompanied by a glazed, cross-eyed expression and a fawning smile. sigh

          • I hear you, my sister. I thought about trying to go to Bible Study, but instantly my mind flashed to how it all would play out. I’m no warrior evangelist/apologetics personality, yet I know that in the inner pressure I would feel, things would “bleed out” of me, then would come the shock, the shrinking away, because no matter how tactful and nice I would try to be, it just wouldn’t work.

            And this will sound horrible, but really I don’t think it is so easy to change most people’s minds and hearts anymore. I really think a lot these days about how God allows hearts to be hardened. He outright said He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he allowed the hearts of the Jews to be hardened. Jesus said straight out to His own people that they would hear but would not understand and would see but would not perceive. And St. Paul talks about the last days when man would be completely messed up and “heartless.”

            Your prominent woman probably believes she is a good Catholic and maybe she does many good things and believes some of the same things you believe. It’s not easy to see exactly what is in people’s hearts. As many people are saying, when evil looks like good and good is portrayed as evil, how hard is that? Maybe, in some odd way God knows but we can’t see, our current pope is “the pope for our time.”

  4. My favorite O’brien book is ‘The Father’s Tale’. It ‘s a mystery full of symbolism and wonderful characters that encapsulates the whole world in the Church’s struggle against sin and darkness. In an interview Mr. O’brien gave on EWTN some years ago I was much taken by his modesty and sincerity. His mere presence is a role model for how a Catholic can be without resorting to harshness and judgmentalism…qualities I really struggle against everyday in my dealings with my totally unCatholic family and friends.


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