Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Review: The Donkey Dialogues

The Donkey Dialogues
The Donkey Dialogues by Michael D. O'Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a tremendous respect and admiration for Michael O'Brien, and this book has raised it to new levels.

This book is a series of letters between Michael O'Brien and Mate Krajina. They were written between May 2012 and February 2014. In them, the two men discuss their lives as writers and fathers. Both have known, and continue to know, hardship and want. Both have a deep desire to live as faithful Catholics, sharing the love of Christ with their families, friends, and readers.

If there is a modern writer who is the antithesis of a "prosperity Gospel" preacher, it is Michael O'Brien. His books are filled with characters who suffer terribly, but in their suffering they find they are not suffering alone, and they are not suffering without purpose. They find Jesus, and they find happiness and love, even as they continue to suffer. His novels are so powerful because they illustrate and make visible the Christian understanding of suffering. This understanding is almost impossible to grasp simply through the intellect, but it can be seen and felt through the portraits painted with words in his novels.

In the Donkey Dialogues we get a glimpse into the lives and the minds of two men who especially appreciate the danger modern Western culture poses to our souls. Mate Krajina faced persecution under Communism, and sees that mass-produced cults of pleasure-seeking and consumerism might do to the Church what direct persecution could not accomplish.

Both men understand what I believe to be the true state of the world: We are at war. It is not a war with a nation or a people, but a spiritual war with the devil. He wishes us to move far from God, rebel against Him, and turn in on ourselves. It matters not to the evil one if we do that through laziness, pleasure, sloth, and addiction to trivialities (the modern Western problem), or through direct persecution meant to intimidate and kill (the Communist and Islamist approach).

This book was very inspiring to me as a father. It renewed my desire to build up and defend my family, to make sure each of my children knows he or she is loved by God and will find his or her ultimate happiness in loving and serving Him.

Some favorite quotes:

[O'Brien] "In the post-Communist era, there are fewer dangers to the body but more perils for the soul."

[Krajina, describing how they got to calling themselves "donkeys", especially as it relates to protecting their families] "I was using a parable of a donkey, the shepherds loading on him everything they need for a long stay in the mountains, telling you about its 'defensive' role in the sheep pack. Namely, he is there so that the wolves may attack him first because it is the unwritten law of nature that wolves attack donkeys first, and only then the sheep."

[O'Brien] "...I see a gift in every opportunity to overcome fear."

[O'Brien] "Always, it is the path of selflessness. If a father/husband wishes to give life to his wife and children, he must die to what is selfish within himself."

[Krajina] "The wife's smile has a truly therapeutic effect. It becomes easier to find a seed of hope in one's own heart and bring joy."

[O'Brien] "In his encyclical on the family, _Familiaris Consortio_, Pope John Paul II emphasized to parents...that we should raise our families from the beginning with a simplicity, a slower pace, a gentler and more human way of life. ... I must underline also that to resist the spirit of the world, we should always do it with love and good humour."

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