Merciful Musing: Book Pick: ‘A Line Through the Human Heart’

A look at the latest from Father James Schall.

(photo: Register Files)

A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven

By Father James V. Schall

Angelico Press, 2016

146 pages, $14.95

To order:


There are few Catholic writers today who are as prolific, profound and unendingly insightful as Jesuit Father James V. Schall.

One of Father Schall’s most recent offerings is a short, but sage and edifying, book entitled A Line Through the Human Heart.

The book is largely a collection of essays he has written in the past, gathered together under one roof for the first time, and modified and updated in order to better examine the topic at hand. Some of the chapters of this book appeared on websites such as Crisis Magazine, The Catholic Thing, Midwestern Chesterton News and Catholic World Report, among others.

The tenor of Father Schall’s thought — and the intellectual rigor with which he approaches his work — can be glimpsed from the quotations presented at the beginning of the book. There are passages from the Book of Wisdom, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Plato and St. Augustine. Whether by design or not, these quotations establish right from the beginning that Father Schall will bring his own wisdom, in line with the great minds of Christian and pre-Christian thought, fully to bear on the concepts of sin and forgiveness.

In one particularly cogent and important chapter (Chapter 9: “On Forgiveness”), Father Schall carefully examines what it takes to be forgiven once a wrong has been committed. Here, the priest balances mercy with real-life context in a given situation:

“In a homily at Santa Marta (January 23, 2015), Pope Francis spoke of ‘forgiveness’: ‘God always forgives! He never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.’ The Pope recalled the ‘how many times?’ question of Scripture — the ‘seventy times seven.’ He did not mention the sin against the Holy Spirit that would not be forgiven. That sin is usually interpreted to mean that the sinner who chooses himself cannot be budged from attention to himself to look at something else. In such cases, the sin cannot be forgiven because it will not be admitted.

“Before forgiveness, the sin must be acknowledged. This acknowledgment is what the priest has to hear and judge in confession. Usually, the promise to ‘sin no more’ is presumed. If I confess my sins but do not plan to change my ways, it is difficult to see what forgiveness might mean” (48).

Time and again throughout the book, Father Schall comes back to the importance of recognizing our sinfulness and our sinful acts as a crucial step in seeking forgiveness: “If we cannot recognize when we have done something wrong, we cannot be forgiven of its consequences or wrongness” (112).

And when we recognize our sinfulness, recognize that we are sick and in need of the physician, we can seek him out. And we can receive the fruits of Jesus’ salvific work and be welcomed once more into the arms of our Father.

Paul Senz writes from 

Portland, Oregon.