Review: How to be holy (hint: You can’t do it on your own)
I am not a Type A person—my dusty baseboards can confirm this. In fact, I would never have pegged myself as having a perfectionism problem until I picked up Colleen Carroll Campbell’s new book, The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s. Delving into Campbell’s journey is like looking in a mirror revealing our own fears, pride, shame and fantasies of control that hold us back from accepting God’s grace. Her book reveals that spiritual perfectionism is not just a problem for helicopter parents and driven careerists. It is something we all struggle with.
In the midst of a successful career as a journalist, author and presidential speechwriter, Campbell hit a breaking point. Drowning in the demands of young motherhood, she could no longer trick herself into believing she could maintain control over her life—particularly her spiritual life. The thought of passing this burden of perfectionism on to her children motivated her to find a remedy.
The Heart of Perfection offers insight into the heart of the matter in the exhausting battle of spiritual perfectionism: the vicious pride that keeps us from facing the reality of our imperfections and the fear that deceives us into believing we are unworthy of God’s love if we cannot keep up appearances. Campbell pairs her own story with those of saints like St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose grace-filled victories over perfectionism inspire her.
Campbell also includes the story of Angélique Arnauld. Although friends with St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, Angélique refused to follow them into their embrace of God’s mercy and love and instead clung to a path of self-dependence and scrupulosity that led her into the arms of joyless heresy. Her life is a sobering warning for all of us who struggle to accept our own weakness and need for God’s mercy.
The Heart of Perfection offers insight into the heart of the matter in the exhausting battle of spiritual perfectionism: the vicious pride that keeps us from facing the reality of our imperfections and the fear that deceives us into believing we are unworthy of God’s love.
The Heart of Perfection is full of insight into what motivates us to attempt to reach holiness through our own strength and how this obsession holds us back from spiritual progress. But Campbell does not invite us to a watered-down spirituality that resigns us to a “You’re okay, I’m okay” mentality. Instead, she opens up a world of radical dependence on God’s grace and the patient, humble obedience that draws us close to the heart of Jesus. The wise advice she offers can be a catalyst for self-reflection and acknowledgement that while we are weak, God’s grace is always sufficient.