Conversion, that ancient mystery

Found this review of Christopher Bela’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder, a Catholic novel for the 21st century:


Attending mass at a small Catholic church, Sophie suddenly feels — she doesn’t know how else to say it — “for a time, occupied.” Later she would agree that the “occupying force” was the Holy Spirit. At the time, though, she knows only that she has been taken over by “something outside of herself, something real, not an idea or a conceit or a metaphor.” She rebuilds her life around the moment of revelation, although it never recurs. In the language of Christian theology, she is gennathei anothen — “not ‘born again,’ exactly, but ‘born from above.’ ”

She finds a use for her religious faith when her father-in-law emerges from years of estrangement and mystery to ask for her help. Bill Crane is hospitalized after surgery, and he wants out. St. Vincent’s will only release him to the care of a family member. He wants nothing more, but Sophie learns that he is suffering from end-stage stomach cancer. Her religious instruction forbids her to abandon him. And so she moves into his squalid apartment, intending to care for him as the light goes out; perhaps even, she reflects, to save his soul. Crane is furious: he wants only to be left alone to die. As the pain spreads and deepens, he begs her to kill him. For a time, Sophie stands by Catholic law. But in the end, she relents.

What happens next is amazing.


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