1. Proof of Heaven opens with several quotations, one of them
by Blaise Pascal: “The Heart has reasons that Reason does
not know.” Why do you think the author picked this quotation?
What do you think the quotation means? How does
this quotation 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 of approaching his or
her faith in God and of thinking about what happens when
we die. What does Cathleen believe? What does Colm? Dr. Basu? Sean? The Monsignor? Do you identify with any of
these characters’ approaches to his or her belief? Does anyone’s
belief system particularly bother 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 they fit into
any particular religion? Why or why not?
3. How do you think Cathleen and Sean’s religion informs (or
doesn’t inform) their beliefs? They are both Catholic, but
they have very different perspectives on their 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?
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 higher
power or God?
6. Do you think Sean’s call to become a priest was real? Do you
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 that Cathleen has
with her son, her brother, Monsignor, and Dr. Basu. How
does she interact with them differently? Similarly? Why do
you think so?
9. Each character has the opportunity to interact individually
with another character at least once 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 several intimate
conversations. While all of the characters ultimately
end up on the journey together as a group, which individual
friendship struck you most? Dr. Basu and Sean? Dr. Basu and
Colm? Cathleen and Dr. Basu? Cathleen and Colm? Which
relationship did you respond to most positively? Why?
10. When the story begins, Cathleen and Colm are very much
alone. Colm’s father is gone and Cathleen’s parents are gone.
Cathleen is 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 single person the center? Why do you think
11. Throughout the story, the universe—its expansion, form, and
matter—is 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 being compared to that of the human
heart and brain? How does each character embody this connection?
Which scenes do you find illustrate this relationship
12. In this story, the author intended to juxtapose the earth and
sky, or earthly and heavenly pursuits, in the story’s characters
and settings. She designed each character to represent
the elements of 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 water scenes? Dr. Basu is
very much grounded to the earth. He’s a pragmatic man who
looks for his answers in the world that’s at his fingertips,
through science and empirical data. Which scenes strike
you and show you that he is rooted to 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. Which scenes stand out for you when Sean exhibits
this element? Colm embodies the wind, or the spirit.
His name even means “dove” or “peace.” What part of the
story strikes you as Colm most embodying “the spirit”? 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
whose 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, whom Jesus
charges with caring for Mary at Jesus’s death. (In Gaelic,
Sean means “John.”) 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 Christlike? What about
him reminds you of the story of Jesus? What doesn’t? Which
parts of the story sound familiar—something you may have
heard in the Gospels or seen in familiar Christian
14. Throughout the story, the author juxtaposes heavenly and
earthly settings. Where does each character find he or she is
closest to the divine? Which character finds solace in church?
In nature? In the presence of other people?
In his or her own
mind? Where do you feel closest to the divine? In a church?
By the shore? Under a night sky? Amid 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
happen. 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” was realized? 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 come
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 in finding
his father. Do you think we are all a little like Colm:
reluctant believers who deep down want to know or believe
that someone is out there, loving us from afar 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 does Cathleen? At what point do you see her
character make a dramatic turn? When does Sean become
transformed? Do you think he overcomes his physical and
spiritual proverbial demons with alcohol addiction? Does
Dr. Basu become transformed? Where and when? What is
significant about this moment? Where is he and who is 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 goes to heaven? Or do you think it is just a
dream, a chemical reaction in his dying brain? Do you think
he believes in God? Do you think he finds his father?
18. The final quotation in 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 quotation?
Do you feel a kinship to those whom you have lost in your
life? Do you find your lost loved ones in unexpected places?
19. Do you think the characters find what they were looking for?
Where does Dr. Basu find his lost son? Where does Cathleen
find Pierce, her mother, and her father? Where does Colm
find his father? Where does Sean find his mother?
20. Where do you look for, and have you found, Proof of Heaven?