Graham Green's 1941 novel, The Power and the Glory, centers on an outlaw Catholic priest in 1930s rural Mexico. It received the Hawthornden Prize in British literature and was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century. Today, men studying for the priesthood read the story and priests, like me, reread it throughout their lives.
One might ask why. The Vatican initially condemned the book and the anti-hero priest, referred to as "the whisky priest," is not only a drunk, but has violated his promise of celibacy and has lived selfishly. He is certainly not one to be emulated. He admits his own wretchedness when he prays, "Oh God, send them someone more worthwhile to suffer for." He had uttered this while the faithful were being executed to lure him out of hiding. The narrator writes, "It seemed to him a damnable mockery that they should sacrifice themselves for a whisky priest with a bastard child."
So, again we ask, why is this an inspiring story? Because of weakness. Yes, the whisky priest will find redemption and by the end of the story not be as self-serving and timorous, but he is still no saint. He is a weak, even pathetic figure, and God acts through him. Through this fallible instrument the faithful are served. In the words of the priest as he sits in a dank prison cell, "suddenly we discover that our sins have so much beauty.” Our sins and our imperfections allow more room for God to act. We decrease and God increases. And the power and the glory belong not to the people, nor to priests, but to God alone.