"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saints as They Really Are

It was, if I recall correctly, Cardinal Newman who once objected to making saints into mere "clothes-racks for virtues," hanging on them all our conventional and bourgeois projections of "correct behavior" and "pious living." The humanity of such figures is thus subsumed in a revolting mass of treacle, resulting in little more than a caricature and thereby proving the truth of Ambrose Bierce's aphorism: a saint is just a dead sinner well edited.

To counteract all this, we have for some time now been in the debt of the Orthodox priest, scholar, and professor at Baruch College in the City University of New York, Michael Plekon, whom I interviewed last summer about his many publications and ongoing work on hagiography and much else besides. Now I am delighted that the University of Notre Dame Press is soon to bring out the latest volume in his acclaimed trilogy on real saints: Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time (UND Press, May 2012), 288pp.

About the book, the publisher tells us:

In his new book, Saints As They Really Are, priest and scholar Michael Plekon traces the spiritual journeys of several American Christians, using their memoirs and other writings. These “saints-in-the-making” show all their doubts and imperfections as they reflect on their search for God and their efforts to lead holy lives. They are gifted yet ordinary women and men trying to follow Christ within their flawed and broken humanity—“saints as they really are,” as Dorothy Day put it.
Saints As They Really Are is the third book in Plekon’s critically acclaimed series on saints and holiness in our time. He draws on the autobiographical work of Dorothy Day, Peter Berger, Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, and Barbara Brown Taylor, among others, as well as from his own experiences as a Carmelite seminarian and brother. Plekon shares the power of these individuals’ stories as they unfold. The book offers a strong argument that our failings and weaknesses are not disqualifications to holiness. Plekon further confronts the institutional church and its relationship to individuals seeking God, focusing on some of the challenges to this search—the destructive potential of religion and religious institutions, as well as our personal tendencies to extremism, overwork, pious obsessions, and legalism. But he also underscores the healing qualities of faith and the spiritual life. Plekon’s insights will help readers better understand their own spiritual pilgrimages as they learn how others have dealt with the trials and joys of their path to everyday holiness.
You can be sure that we will be discussing the book on here, and also featuring another interview with the author to discuss this work. The book will be reviewed in 2013 in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.  

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