I hadn’t read a Graham Greene novel in years, but remembering the tale of the ‘whiskey priest’ in The Power and the Glory I got it down and re-read it last week.
I can remember reading Greene as an Anglican student and asking my Catholic friend, June Reynolds what she thought of him. She chuckled and said, “I’m afraid he’s too complicated for me. Catholicism’s simpler than that.”
Now as a Catholic of ten years, and as a priest, I see what she means. Over the years I’ve met lots of priests. I’ve known very clever and accomplished priests and very simple ignorant priests. I’ve met vain and pompous priests, priests with anger problems, drink problems and sex problems, but most of them have been good, hard working men with simple tastes and a modest way about them. I’ve never met any who seem as morose, self absorbed and complicated as the whiskey priest.
Greene’s story (like most of his stories) is flawed because it doesn’t account for the simplicity and clarity that the sacrament of confession brings to the complexities of the human heart. Was this because Greene himself laboured so long in sins that he knew were wrong? Dunno.
What I do know is that a truly penitent soul is simple. He sees clearly, not only his own sins, but also the everlasting mercy of God.