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|The questions that
follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of
PROOF OF HEAVEN by Mary Curran Hackett
Proof of Heaven is as
much a story a mother and child and their quest for healing and love, as it
is a story that resembles all of our quests to understand life’s “Big
Questions”—why are we here? Where do we go when we die? And how come all of
this is so hard? Each main character, Dr. Basu, Sean, Cathleen, and Colm,
and even minor characters like the Monsignor and Pierce, all participate in
this quest, but each character begins at a different starting point and each
come to their own realization of what indeed is Proof of Heaven.
Questions for discussions
1. Proof of Heaven opens with several quotes, one of them by
Blaise Pascal is: “The Heart has reasons that Reason does not know.” Why
do you think the author picked this quote? What do you think the quote
means? How does this quote relate to the story, the theme of the book,
and each character’s particular journey? Can you relate to these words?
Has there ever been a time in your life that you felt your heart and
mind wanted different things? Do you find yourself torn between the two?
Are you more apt to follow your heart or your mind?
2. Each character has a different way they approach his or her faith in
God as well as what they think about happens when they die. What does
Cathleen believe? What does Colm? Dr. Basu? Sean? The Monsignor? Do you
identify with any of these character’s approach to his/her belief? Does
anyone’s belief system particularly bother your or upset you? Why? Do
you see yourself or any of your loved ones in any of the characters?
What are your beliefs? Do you feel it fits into any particular religion?
Why or why not?
3. How do you think Cathleen and Sean’s religion informed their beliefs
or didn’t? They are both Catholic, but have very different perspectives
on the religion and their faith. Whether you are Catholic or not, can
you identify with the characters’ struggles to make sense of the
religion they have been raised to believe in, but come to feel
differently about as they have grown up and experienced it?
4. Dr. Basu was raised a Hindu, but becomes an agnostic. What changed
his belief? Does he transform again? How so? Why? Have you ever
experienced a similar transformation?
5. Colm doesn’t believe in anything at first. What do you think he comes
to believe in the end? And do you believe in “a high power” or God?
6. Do you think Sean’s call to become a priest was real? Do you believe
people can be “called” by God to a vocation? Why or why not? What
changed in him?
7. Do you think religion offers a reasonable framework to discover God?
Do you feel that a religion is necessary to experience the divine? Why
or why not?
8. Compare and contrast the relationships Cathleen has with her son, her
brother, Monsignor, and Dr. Basu. How does she interact with them
differently? Or the same? Why do you think so?
9. Each character has the opportunity to interact individually with
another character at least one point in the story. For example, Colm has
several one-on-one conversations with his mother, Dr. Basu, and Sean.
Sean, gets to talk to his sister, Dr. Basu, and Colm one-on-one as well.
And Dr. Basu forms unique bonds with Colm, Cathleen, and Sean through
the course of several intimate conversations. While all the characters
ultimately end up on the journey together as a group, which individual
friendship struck you? Dr. Basu and Sean? Dr. Basu and Colm? Cathleen
and Dr. Basu? Cathleen and Colm? Which relationship did you respond most
positively to? Why?
10. When the story begins, Cathleen and Colm are very much alone. Colm’s
father is gone, Cathleen’s parents are gone, and she is literally the
“center” of Colm’s universe, and Colm is the center of hers. How does
their “universe” expand over the course of the story? Who becomes part
of it? Who do you think becomes the “center” of gravity by the end of
the story? Or is any “one” the center? Why do you think that?
11. Throughout the story the universe—its expansion, form, and
matter—are alluded to in connection with characters, the plot, and even
the human heart. Did you ever think of the heart as an “electric”
organ—or did you ever conceive of the electricity and energy of the
stars compared to that of the human heart and brain? How does each
character embody this connection? What scenes did you find that
illustrated this relationship best?
12. In this story, the author intended to juxtapose the “Earth and Sky”
or “Heavenly and Earthly” in both its characters and settings. She
designed each character to represent the elements of the earth, wind,
fire, and water. Cathleen embodies the concept of mutability and
“water.” What about her is mutable or changing? Does she strike you as
someone who transforms or changes often in situations? Does she ever
appear with or by water? What do you think the significance is in each
of these scenes? Dr. Basu is very much grounded to the earth. He’s a
pragmatic man, who looks for his answers in the world at his
fingertips—through science and empirical data. What scenes strike you
and show you that he is rooted into the earth? Does he ever seem to
change and take on other elements as he grows and opens his heart to the
other characters? Sean embodies all that is explosive—his attitude,
early calling (and later his addictions), anger, passion, and even his
profession are linked to fire. What scenes stand out for you when Sean
exhibits this element? Colm is embodies “the wind” or the “spirit.” His
name even means “Dove” and “peace.” What part of the story strikes you
as Colm embodying the “spirit” most? Do any of the characters transform
at all or take on other elements throughout the story? Where? How?
13. The author also modeled the characters in another way—after familiar
characters in Judeo-Christian religions. Cathleen, who’s Gaelic name
means “pure one” represents Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Sean,
represents, at various times, both Joseph, the foster father entrusted
with the earthly care of Jesus, and later the trusted disciple, John,
(Sean means “John” in Gaelic), who is handed over by Jesus to be in
charge of the care of Jesus’ mother at Jesus’ death. Dr. Basu, or Gaspar,
represents the wise man from the East (most probably from the country
that is now India), and he embodies the gifts, wisdom, and protection
offered to the child Jesus. Did you see the connections in the story?
Does Colm strike you as Christ-like? What about him reminds you of the
story of Jesus? What doesn’t? What parts of the story sound
familiar—like you have heard it in the Gospels or seen it in familiar
14. Throughout the story, the author juxtaposes “heavenly” and “earthly”
settings. Where does each character find they are closest to the divine?
Which character finds solace in church? In nature? In the presence of
other people? In their mind? Where do you feel closest to the divine? In
a church? By the shore? Under a night sky? Amidst nature’s phenomena? In
the arms of a loved one? In the eyes of a child?
15. Cathleen, Dr. Basu, and Colm travel to Italy to try a healing ritual
at a place where many miracles have been alleged to have happened. Do
you think it was responsible of Cathleen to put Colm through such an
ordeal? Do you believe in miracles? Have you ever prayed for a miracle
or experienced one? Do you think Colm’s “miracle” took? In Italy? Or on
his road trip? What do you think makes a miracle a miracle?
16. Colm’s quest to find his father resembles the larger quest of all of
humanity’s attempt to understand where we came from and where we are
headed. Most of us have feelings about whether we believe or don’t
believe in God. Colm doesn’t believe in “heaven” but he hasn’t given up
hope to find his father. Do you think we are all a little like Colm,
reluctant believers, who, deep down, want to know, want to believe,
someone is out there—loving us from a far and keeping us within their
benevolent arms? Does Colm “find” what he is looking for? What do you
think? Have you found what you’re looking for?
17. Do you think the characters in this story find Proof of Heaven?
Where and when did Cathleen? At what point did you see her character
make a dramatic turn? When did Sean become transformed? Do you think he
overcame his physical and spiritual proverbial “demons” with addiction
to alcohol? Did Dr. Basu become transformed? Where and when? What was
significant about this moment? Where was he and who was he with? How
does this relate to Dr. Basu’s oscillation between the Earth and Sky,
the Mind and Heart? What about Colm? Do you think he went to heaven? Or
do you think it was just a dream or a chemical reaction in his dying
brain? Do you think he believes in God? Do you think he found his
18. The final quote of the book is by Walt Whitman. He writes, “Failing
to fetch me at first keep encouraged / Missing me one place search
another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you.” Why do you think the
author chose this quote? Do you feel a kinship to those who you have
lost in your life? Do you find your lost loved ones in unexpected
19. Do you think the characters found what they were looking for? Where
did Dr. Basu find his lost son? Where does Cathleen find Pierce, her
mother, and father? Where does Colm find his father? Where does Sean
find his mother?
20. Where do look for, and have you found, proof of heaven?