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)