Guest Columnist Book Review: Mind, Heart, & Soul

Mind Heart and Soul cover

The Catholic Church in the United States has received staggering blows of late. The sinful and criminal behavior of a former leading prelate, the statewide investigations into clergy sex abuse across the country, the Vatican's confused and vapid response – all have left many of the faithful in despair. Some American Catholics are even questioning their fidelity to Mother Church. It may seem curious, therefore, that comes now a new book recounting the conversion stories of sixteen leading intellectuals. Of course, there are no coincidences in the often-charming world of God. In Mind, Heart, & Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome, Robert George and R.J. Snell offer a refreshing and inspirational reminder from some of today's greatest minds of the many splendored reasons to be Catholic.

Professors George and Snell preface their work with this simple observation: "Every Catholic is a convert." As explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission" through baptism – whether as babies or adults. Nevertheless, as George and Snell aptly note, there is something fascinating about adult converts to Catholicism. "For many, although certainly not all, converts entering the Catholic Church as adults, whether from another Christian community, another religion, or no faith at all," they write, "the Catholic intellectual tradition was experienced as part of the struggle to come home."

The sixteen interviews in Mind, Heart, & Soul were completed before the Church's "summer of shame." Neither former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's horrific behavior or the Pennsylvania grand jury's report on clergy sexual abuse had become public. Yet, as George and Snell observe in their preface, these conversion stories are "signs that while we do not place our trust in princes (Ps. 146:3), we continue to trust in a God who does not abandon us and who, in the words of one Eucharistic prayer, will 'never cease to gather a people to [Himself], so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to [His] name."

The converts, as well as those who interviewed them, are an impressive lot. They include leading theologians, university professors, scholars, journalists, writers, and a current U.S. bishop. Some are acquaintances. One I consider a friend. Each "conversion story" is as unique as the soul that owns it.

Readers are invited to contemplate the spiritual truths that prompted these intellectuals to find their way to the Church. Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White grew up in southeast Georgia as the only child of a Jewish father and a Presbyterian mother. He has taken up the task of reintroducing Thomistic thought to an ever-growing secular world. He advises pilgrims, old and new, to engage with God "on God's terms and according to the Church's teachings." For all believers searching for the truth, "[t]he real answer is to enter the Catholic Church and live the sacramental life, and not despair in the search for the truth, because God is always very close to us and will give us the means to arrive at the destination if we want him to do so."

Similarly, Harvard Law Professor Adrian Vermeule matter-of-factly remarks that "the depths of the Church are not disturbed by the storms that pass to and fro on the surface." Rather, he says , "the Church seems to me an institution whose foundations are as strong as iron. The turmoil will pass away; episodes, scandals and debates will come and go; but the line and witness of Peter's successors will never fail." And my dear friend Hadley Arkes, one of the country's foremost experts on natural law, remarks that "the Church was and is the main refuge for sanity." Arkes's odds-on assertion: "[W]hen the Church stands contra mundum, against the currents of moral opinion on any issue, my betting is that the Church has it right."

It's important to point out that Mind, Heart, & Soul is no dry recitation of the intellectual integrity of Catholic teaching. Not at all. The volume's conversion stories also highlight the importance of friendship in bringing people to the Church. Kirsten Powers, nationally-known journalist and political analyst, credits the dynamism of Ann Corkery and the late-Kate O'Beirne for her decision to become Catholic. Nor did Arkes journey alone with his formidable mind on the road to Rome. Friends Robbie George, the late-Dan Robinson, as friend and colleague at Amherst, and now-deceased Opus Dei priest Father Arne Panula walked along with him. For these interviewees, friends here on earth helped them cultivate a friendship with Christ.

Mind, Heart, & Soul offers hope at this most challenging time for the Church. "[I]f converts continue to enter our Church, bruised and shattered as she is," George and Snell write, "it is because of the grace of God."

No, we must never dismiss God's grace and His willingness to accompany each one of us in finding our way home.

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