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Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time
Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time
Michael Plekon
University of Notre Dame Press, 2012
304 pp., $35.00

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Sarah Hinlicky Wilson


Solus Christianus, Nullus Christianus

On holiness.

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But the most remarkable aspect of this third book is how Plekon himself finally comes out of hiding. He has shown his loves and convictions through his choice of saints to present, but throughout the reader has suspected that an interesting account of his own hidden holiness has been held back. Now at last we hear the story: how as a young person Plekon attended minor seminary under the care of the Carmelites, professed friar vows, and set himself on course for a life of service in the priesthood—a trajectory that broke down in his early twenties when he left to pursue his life "in the world." Most of his story took place before the reforms of Vatican II were implemented, so Plekon grew up in a world where there was a strict divorce between holiness and worldliness. Perhaps the saddest part of all was the practice, then, of discouraging seminarians from emotional intimacy of any kind with anyone at all; holiness was treated as a matter of keeping oneself to oneself and God alone: "Emotional reserve, the distancing of oneself from others and from one's own feelings, having little to say about one's own thoughts, less even about one's personality—all of this was to some extent acquired in the formation I experienced in the Carmelites." It is no surprise that he and so many others couldn't stick it in the end, but one would expect to find the same problem in any Christian community that drives a hard line between individual and community, between the holy life and the ordinary life.

Through this meandering journey, Plekon ultimately paints a rich portrait of what holiness is and could be for all the body of Christ in the 21st century. As he writes, "Sanctity is not a moral achievement but more like a seal, a stamp, being marked and set apart as God's own." The stamp stays on us whether we are laity or clergy, young or old, married or single, working or homemaking, resting or fighting, succeeding or failing. But being set apart does not mean being set alone. Plekon does well to remind us of Tertullian's old adage: "Solus christianus, nullus christianus: There is no such thing as a solitary Christian."

Books by Michael Plekon discussed in this essay:

Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2002).

Hidden Holiness (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2009).

Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2012).

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is assistant research professor at the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, and the editor of Lutheran Forum.

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