Culture Check

Weekend Book Pick: Michael D. O'Brien's Remembrance of the Future

Michael D. O’Brien, the well-known Catholic artist and author, has brought us a select collection of his non-fiction writing in Remembrance of the Future. Pulling essays from various periodicals, including his studiobrien newsletter, his book The Family and the New Totalitarianism, and a lecture given in Ottawa, O’Brien presents his view of our increasingly secular society and asks the reader to consider the state of our culture: Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? What can the Church do to help those who are not helping themselves?

O’Brien, as always, begins his commentaries by immersing himself in the Church. This is evident in his writings: They are peppered with the words of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Catechism and Scripture, Catholic authors such as Josef Pieper and G.K. Chesterton, and Christian author C.S. Lewis.

O’Brien has come to believe that the Western world is in sharp decline due to our shortsightedness, devaluing of the family and tendency to ignore God. In his essay “The New Totalitarianism,” O’Brien posits that democracy is being replaced by a new kind of totalitarianism, one that isn’t as easily recognizable as it has been in the past. In “Musing on the Internet,” O’Brien laments the ballooning “instant gratification” culture that is allowing more sinister elements to sneak into our consciousness. In “Three Views of the Future,” O’Brien pens an entertaining short trilogy set in the year 2109, each part of which presents a different viewpoint of a fictional persecuted Catholic Church in America.

While, in O’Brien’s view, our culture is on the shortcut to collapse, he also proclaims that there is much hope in the Church. In “Chesterton and Paganism,” O’Brien recounts Chesterton’s conversion to the Catholic faith. Once a pagan who “was skirting the edge of an abyss,” as O’Brien puts it, Chesterton emerged with the strength of Christ, proclaiming to the world the dangers of evil which he himself had experienced. Chesterton, of course, went on to become one of the greatest Catholic thinkers of the 20th century.

Indeed, it will be the conversion of hearts that allows Christ to change the world. O’Brien writes:

“We must become a people who are in submission, that is, submitted completely to the mission of the Church, in statu missionis. Thus, living fully within the mainstream of grace, under the mantle of God’s divine authority, and by uniting ourselves to the obedience of Christ on the cross, we participate in the reversal of Adam’s sin. In this way, we will find a personal, secret joy hidden within the crucifixion of our willfulness, a gateway to freedom, a dying that leads to life. And in doing so we will assist in the redemption of the world.”

There is one thing that holds O’Brien’s book back slightly: a lack of evidence to back claims. While he does provide many primary sources to back his arguments, some are made without even an endnote.

But beyond this, in Remembrance of the Future, O’Brien does us a service by helping flesh out some of the issues that brought our culture into the decay it is in today and telling us how we can keep it from being sent into the grave tomorrow.

Joy Wambeke writes from Marshall, Minnesota.


Remembrance of the Future

By Michael D. O’Brien

Justin Press, 2009

431 pages, $29.95

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