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A Friend and Mentor: Remembering Tom Howard

Friends are not usually mentors.  Relationships with friends are horizontal relationships between equals; relationships with mentors are vertical relationships with role models.  I have had many friends and many mentors but only three people in my life have been both friends and mentors to me: Sheldon Vanauken, author of A Severe Mercy, the only book I know that elicits tears from all who have ever read it, Michael O’Brien, the greatest living Catholic novelist, and Tom Howard.

All three, in different ways (but especially Tom), remind me of the medieval statues of St. Augustine, which put an open book in one hand and a burning heart in the other.  Head and heart, reason and passion, mind and will, light and love, wisdom and wonder, truth and beauty, are the two divine attributes that raise us above the beasts; and while excellence in each is rare, the blend of both is even rarer.  Tom, like Augustine, had that blend.  No one I ever met has so tempted me to believe Keats’ equation, that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.”  (That equation is beautiful but not quite true.  But when truth and goodness marry, beauty is their child.)

Tom was in love with beauty everywhere, both material and spiritual: in the cosmos, in life, in liturgy, in saints, in words, in his lovely wife Lovelace, and above all in Christ. Beauty evoked in Tom, as in Augustine, both contemplation and passion, both wondering awe and inconsolable longing..  Tom was a passionate contemplative. His soul and his writing had the elegance of an Episcopalian and the fire of a Baptist.

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