With that disclaimer out of the way, The Power and the Glory is about a "whisky priest" in Mexico during the anti-clerical purge in the 1920s. The nameless priest is in a particularly brutal state where all priests are being hunted down and executed. Not knowing why he stayed while most of his brothers fled, The Priest flees from village to village, performing baptisms, saying masses, and succumbing to alcoholism along the way.
The Priest is one of the most real characters I have ever encountered. In John Updike's introduction to the novel, he shares an anecdote about a Mexican woman who found herself praying for the priest, despite knowing that he was a fictional character. I couldn't agree more, because, like the Mexican woman, I was holding my breath, willing him to survive.
I think we have something of the whisky priest in all of us--with varying moments of weakness and glory. The Priest is too brave to escape, but too cowardly to surrender. He listens to confessions, but judges the sins of other people, turning them over in his hands like a Rubik's cube that he needs to figure out. The tug-of-war inside the priest is clearly depicted in this excerpt:
One mustn't have human affections—or rather one must love every soul as if it were one's own child. The passion to protect must extend itself over a world—but he felt it tethered and aching like a hobbling animal to the tree trunk. He turned his mule south.This book definitely reaffirmed my belief that there is always a gray area. In my opinion, Roman Catholicism tends to be very black and white about the sins of its people, but we all have human failings. There will always be situations where you can't just stand back and say that a person is a sinner or a saint. The Priest is definitely both.
After I finished the book, I took a deep breath, and started reexamining my religious beliefs. I am what most people would call a lapsed Catholic. I believe in God, but I don't attend mass and I don't agree with some of the tenets of the Catholic church. All my life, I've gone to Catholic schools, and certain teachings have been ingrained so deep into my being that I don't even know if I believe them personally or if I believe them because I'm supposed to. My point is this: I'm still trying to figure things out for myself, sorting out the things I trust in and the things I don't. Maybe that's why this book had such a huge impact on me.