30 July 2021

The Power and the Glory

The Power and the Glory

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third time I have read The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, which is set in Mexico in the 1930s, when the Roman Catholic Church was being persecuted by the revolutionary Mexican government. This story is about a priest on the run from the police, knowing that if he is caught he will face a firing squad. 

The previous time was nearly fifty years ago. Though I remembered the main plot outline, I had forgotten many details. This time I read it soon after reading two others by the same author, Stamboul Train, and The Quiet American, and I think this one is by far the best of his novels.

Perhaps because I was more familiar with it I noticed different things about it on the third reading. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the prose, which struck me as much better than the other two books, and also better than most other fiction I have read recently.

When I first read it at the age of 22 I was quite harsh in my judgement on the whisky priest protagonist. His last thoughts recorded in the book were an admission of failure.

He felt only an immense disappointment that he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to be a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew that at the end there was only one thing that counted -- to be a saint.

Any my main thought when I finished reading the book was "What a pity that he missed it, that he didn't show a little self-restraint, a little courage.

But reading it when older, I see it differently. We can only ever come to God empty-handed. And God can use even our failures. Everything that we do that is worthwhile is the Holy Spirit's work, and all that isn't is our interference. 

Also, since becoming Orthodox I tend to see things a bit differently. In the Orthodox Church the Sunday after Pentecost is All Saints Day. Being a saint is the effect of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person. We also, soon after Pentecost, celebrate the fathers of the various Ecumenical Councils. It is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that makes these things possible. 

And for Orthodox Christians, the primary sign of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is not, as it is for Pentecostals, speaking in tongues, but the acquisition of a merciful heart. And this is what struck me most on this third reading of this book -- that the whisky priest, whatever his failings, acknowledged those failings, and acquired a merciful heart.

So at this reading I came to a different conclusion: he didn't feel like a saint, and just for that reason he was one.

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