success stories

Posted September 11, 2003

Book: The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage
Author: Paul Elie
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, pp. 555

Excerpt from Jacket:

In the middle of the twentieth century, four American Catholics, working independently of one another, came to believe that the best way to explore the quandaries of religious faith was in writing — in works that readers of all kinds could admire. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their story — a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk in Kentucky; Dorothy Day the foundress of the Catholic Worker movement and its penny newspaper in New York; Flannery O’Connor a “Christ-centered” literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy a doctor in New Orleans who quit medicine to write fiction and philosophy. A friend came up with a name for them — the School of the Holy Ghost — and for three decades they exchanged letters, ardently read one another’s books, and grappled with what one of them called a “predicament shared in common.”

A Pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story, and in The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Paul Elie tells these four writers’ story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life. It is a story of how the Catholic faith in their vision of things, took on forms their readers could not have anticipated. And it is a story about the ways we look to great books and writers to help us make sense of our experience, about the power of literature to change — to save — our lives.

Excerpt from Book:

St. Antonin was an ordinary village, encircled by a road where the ancient ramparts had been. The ruined buildings were recognizable medieval, except for the church in the center, which was modern. But it was the plan of the town, not its beauty or its history, that struck Merton most powerfully. He explained, “The church had been fitted into the landscape in such a way as to become the keystone of its intelligibility . . . .The whole landscape, unified by the church and its heavenward spire, seemed to say: this is the meaning of all created things: we have been made for no other purpose than that men may use us in raising themselves to God, in proclaiming the glory of God.”

Table of Contents:

1. Experience
2. The Downward Path
3. Seeking the Real
4. Another World
5. Independents
6. The School of the Holy Ghost
7. The Stranger
8. Counterparts
9. Convergences
10. Pilgrimage or Crusade?
11. The Holiness of the Ordinary
Epilogue: The Life You Save May Be Your Own