Father Elijah: An Apocalypse – Book Review from a Carmelite Perspective

There’s not enough hours in a day to read everything I would love to read. So, when I do have the chance to read, I’ve been choosing spiritual works over novels or fiction. I have learned so much of the Catholic faith and Carmelite spirituality by doing so. However, some days, you just want to read a good fictional novel and get lost in the characters and the story. Not wanting to be frivolous and “waste time” on just any old novel, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and find a great Catholic work of fiction. An Instagram post provided the answer. One of the people I follow was reading Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. The title intrigued me, so I did a bit of research. It turns out Father Elijah is a fictional Carmelite priest! Sold. I ordered the book online and waited eagerly until it arrived.

I was not disappointed. Written by Michael D. O’Brien, a Canadian author, it is a classic page-turner full of suspense, international intrigue and espionage with the backdrop of the rise of the Antichrist. Without going into too much detail and spoiling the story, the gist of the novel is that Fr Elijah is summoned by the Pope from his monastery near Mount Carmel, where he has spent the past 20 years, to take on a unique and dangerous mission with regards to “the President” whom the Pope believes may be on the verge of becoming the Antichrist. Through all the travels, twists and turns in the plot, you learn the history of Fr Elijah, his own personal sufferings from childhood right through to adulthood, his vocation to become a Carmelite priest after having a successful legal and political career and his struggles and doubts as he faces this dangerous and, at times, life-threatening mission. He learns to navigate the politics of the Vatican, who he can trust both in the Church and in secular society and ultimately puts himself in God’s hands against all human logic.

The classic elements of Carmelite spirituality are present throughout the novel: the dark night of the soul, contemplation, and looking for external proofs of God’s existence in an increasingly dark world only to discover He was in you all along. 

There is one particular scene in the book where Fr Elijah is trying to save the soul of a dying old man with a very evil past.  The old man is trying his best to goad Fr Elijah, to make him leave him in disgust, anger and revulsion.  However, Fr Elijah prays “Oh God, grant me the grace to stay with him, grant me strength to walk down with him into the pit of his soul.  Help me, help me to resist him with love.”  This reminds me of St. Therese’s little way, where she found her vocation to be love, and if I dare say it, used love as a weapon against temptations that came her way; such as the temptation “to turn around and glare” at a sister who was fidgeting with her rosary beads.  Instead, she “put up with it patiently for the love of God first of all, and also not to hurt her feelings.” [p. 147 The Story of a Soul]

There are many more instances throughout the novel where Fr Elijah wrestles with evil, with himself and with his doubt.  In the end, he learns to trust completely and give himself over to the mission God has given him.  He finally lives the words one of his friar mentors gives him as a message from Jesus: “Know this:  I am always in your heart, and My love is released to others when you trust in Me completely.  You are My son.”  In so doing, he epitomizes Chapter 18 of the Rule of St. Albert: Since man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution, and the devil your foe is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour, you must use every care to clothe yourselves in God’s armour so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush.  As Fr. Patrick Thomas McMahon explains in A Pattern for Life regarding Chapter 18 of the Rule:

Our only enemy is, was, and always has been, the Evil One.  Any earthly foe can be won over by the love of Christ.  The only problem is that we have to believe enough to trust the love of Christ to be our only protection and our only weapon.  Christ will draw all people to himself if we but let him use us in what is his battle. [p. 173, A Pattern for Life]

I’m looking forward to seeing how our brave Carmelite priest continues withstanding the enemy’s ambush in Father Elijah in Jerusalem

Corina (Formation I Candidate)

Ups and downs of the spiritual life in midst of pandemic

It has been a long almost three months, hasn’t it?  Now in our 12th week of church closures it truly does feel as though we are in the desert.  In some respects, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to immerse ourselves in that desert, going deeper into the contemplative life now that the demands on our time have lessened to a large degree.  There have been many moments of grace and consolation.  But the opposite is also true.  I certainly have had good days and bad days.  On the good days, I feel God’s presence and the joy it brings.  On the bad days, they are dark; I question, I doubt, and I feel depressed.  And then I feel bad about that; why isn’t my faith stronger?  The roller coaster ride of the past months has been quite the spiritual experience.

Being in formation as a Lay Carmelite has helped me to continue to weather this storm.  Knowing that our great saints have also experienced spiritual dryness has given me great comfort and I know that those times do pass, and we come out the other side stronger than ever in our faith.  Those are the times when God is pruning us in His garden.  It’s painful, and sometimes we don’t understand it, but when He’s finished, by His grace we now have the ability to flower again, and perhaps more brilliantly.

A few weeks back I was having a particularly dark day.  Dealing with home schooling and work and constantly lifting the spirits of my children was taking its toll.  My husband walked through the door at the end of a long day at work and said something to me unintentionally that further pushed me down into the doldrums and something in me snapped.  I had to get out of those four walls and see something else, have some space to myself away from the family.  So, even though it was almost supper, I left, got in my car and allowed myself the luxury of driving through the countryside surrounding our town.  Just seeing open fields, trees and winding roads soothed my frazzled soul.  On days like that, prayer almost feels like a chore.  It even feels insincere as I persevere through my prayers with no feeling behind them.  Knowing what prayer can be like, it feels forced and I feel ashamed.  On this particular drive, I remembered reading in Elizabeth Kindelmann’s diary Jesus’ words of what to do when you experience spiritual dryness:

Now, since the Lord Jesus deprived me of both His words and His presence, a great dryness was consuming my soul.  As I knelt speechless, I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘One Our Father or one Hail Mary prayed in the midst of spiritual dryness is much more fruitful than exuberant prayers of someone who abounds in spiritual favours.

p. 37, The Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, The Spiritual Diary

St. Therese of Lisieux also mentions this:

Whenever my soul is so dry that I am incapable of a single good thought, I always say an Our Father or a Hail Mary very slowly, and these prayers alone cheer me up and nourish my soul with divine food.

p. 141, The Story of a Soul

I didn’t even have the energy or brain power (does anyone else feel their brains going fuzzy sometimes during this pandemic?) while I was driving to say an Our Father or Hail Mary.  So I just kept saying Jesus’ name over and over again as I drove, then “Jesus, I trust in you” over and over again, and “Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” over and over again.  By the time I got home I did feel better.  I walked in the door and my family was happy to see me; it felt like a new breeze had blown through our home wiping away all the cobwebs of gloom and malaise.  It was a gift from the One who loves us.

St. Edith Stein writes in “The Science of the Cross”:

She is subjected to this way of continual ups and downs. ‘Immediately after prosperity some tempest or trial follows, so much so that the calm was seemingly given to forewarn and strengthen it against the future misery.  So, abundance and welfare follow upon that misery and torment.  It seems to the soul, then, that in her case, for the celebration of every feast, a vigil of fasting has been prescribed.

p. 143, Holy Thirst:  Essentials of Carmelite Spirituality

As we continue to live our faith throughout this time of pandemic, there will continue to be days of consolation and desolation, those continual ups and downs.  But navigating them with the help of our Carmelite saints and holy people (like Elizabeth Kindelmann, a Lay Carmelite herself) gives me great hope that I, too, will come out the other side as God wills it and in His own time.

Corina – Formation I Candidate