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Saints As They Really Are

Voices of Holiness in Our Time

Michael Plekon

Publication Year: 2012

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.
“This is the third in a progression of books by Michael Plekon that have served to expand our understanding of saints and holiness. In this new book, he has taken yet a further step in relating holiness to ordinary or everyday life by showing the contours of grace, or the harmonics of holiness, revealed in the Christian journey of a number of contemporary Christian memoirists. He shows how the gospel story of death-resurrection is written in the journey of ordinary Christians.” —Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints  

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Real Live Saints

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pp. 1-14

Naturally speaking, people are filled with repulsion at the idea of holiness. . . . After the last war, everyone was talking about the lost generation. After this war [World War II] thank God, they are talking more about saints. . . . Archbishop Robichaud, in his book Holiness for All...

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Chapter One: Bringing Saints down from the Walls and Pedestals

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pp. 15-40

It was Dorothy Day who lamented that we seldom know holy women and men in their authentic humanity, in the actual context of their lives as women and men, but rather according to their miracles, the extraordinary feats they performed, or their “heroic virtue.” The passage...

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Chapter Two: Messy Lives, Imperfect People

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pp. 41-64

Among authors who write about their religious lives, few could be said to have an easy go of it in those lives. Whether Kathleen Norris or Barbara Brown Taylor, Darcey Steinke or Sara Miles, Patricia Hampl or Nora Gallagher, their memoirs are sometimes hilarious, always poignant but often painful. In many cases, there is a great deal of...

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Chapter Three: Dangerous Faith: Religion as Toxic, Destructive, Pathological

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pp. 65-90

As one of four priests in a big downtown parish, I was engaged in work so meaningful that there was no place to stop. Even on a slow day, I left church close to dark. Sixty-hour weeks were normal, hovering closer to eighty during the holidays. Since my job involved visiting parishioners...

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Chapter Four: Holiness and the Search for Joy

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pp. 91-104

In attempting to learn about experiences of the search for God and the attempt to live the life of holiness, we have already listened to contemporaries of ours in their spiritual journeys. What is more, we started with the more difficult experiences of the mess that we and our...

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Chapter Five: “You want to be happy?”: My Carmelite Years

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pp. 105-150

Interspersed with a memoir of my own experience in religious life is the rule of the Carmelites, the order to which I belonged. It is the shortest of the rules of religious communities, but its brevity does not obscure the balance of life among prayer, study, and work that I was...

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Chapter Six: Conversion and Community: Searching for Love in All the Wrong Places and Finding It Nonetheless

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pp. 151-170

So far, we have been looking at some of the experiences of women and men looking for God, trying to live the life of holiness—in ordinary ways: “saints as they really are.” And this has led us to turn from saints on pedestals, on walls, in icons to some who have tried to express...

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Chapter Seven: God Is Everywhere

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pp. 171-194

Poet Ron Seitz quoted Thomas Merton as saying that the spiritual life could be summarized in three words: “now, here, this.” I can imagine Merton thinking this, even saying it in a talk. In audiotapes and transcripts of presentations he gave in the last years of his life, not to mention entries in his journals, Merton had gotten more precise...

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Chapter Eight: Transformation in Faith and Work, Liturgy and Life, the Church and the World

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pp. 195-220

“I don’t have the slightest idea what God is like, really,” Rick said in his sermon. “All I know is what I see God doing, in my own life and in the lives of the people around me.”2 The Rick who said this is Rick Fabian, one of the founding pastors of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church...

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Chapter Nine: “The Church has left the building”: Belonging to the Christian Community in the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 221-246

In almost every writer we have listened to, no matter the difficulties faced in church, no matter the clashes between religious conservatives and more progressive believers on doctrine and life, there is the realization that faith is rooted in one’s everyday life. As Peter Berger...


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pp. 247-262


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pp. 263-277

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780268089825
E-ISBN-10: 0268089825
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268038380
Print-ISBN-10: 0268038384

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: Yes; 16-page gallery
Publication Year: 2012