Empty Handed

Graham Green’s classic The Power and the Glory (1940) is set in Mexico in the late 1930’s. The country has turned against the Church.  Priests, nuns and the faithful are executed.  Public prayer is forbidden.  Church bells are silent.  One lone priest – the “Whiskey Priest” – escapes and is on the run.  He is being pursued by a methodical – and merciless – police lieutenant who is tasked with his capture. 

The Whiskey Priest – an alcoholic who has sinned in varied ways – tries to remain faithful as he travels around – incognito – ministering to his flock sub rosa.   But he is doggedly pursued by the lieutenant and narrowly escapes capture. 

The book tracks the ills of a society which attacks and tries to destroy the Church.  And faith.  In the end, the Whiskey Priest is captured.  And condemned.  He regrets not his imminent death but rather his failings.  Green concludes with: 

He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all . . . He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointment place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted—to be a saint.

There are several lessons in this work.  One is the war on religion (which we deal with in our own country).  Another is the universal question of why am I here?  And for most the nagging question of am I going to God empty-handed.  I’m aware that most of those who read these posts are active – in volunteering, contributing, helping, doing good deeds and working to improve the human condition.  But are we doing enough?  Think about it.  Could we do more to make the world a better place?  If every person – spurred by that simple query – did one extra act of kindness, charity or contribution each day, imagine how much better the world might be.  Think about the novel notion of civil discourse with those we disagree with . . . . .     

Empty Handed

Graham Green’s wonderful classic The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico in the late 1930’s. Mexico has turned against the Church.  Priests, nuns and the faithful are executed.  Public prayer is forbidden.  Church bells are silent.  One lone priest – the “Whiskey Priest” – escapes and is on the run.  He is being pursued by a methodical – and merciless – police lieutenant who is tasked with his capture.  The Whiskey Priest – an alcoholic who has sinned in varied ways – tries to remain faithful – as he travels around – incognito – ministering to his flock sub rosa.   But he is doggedly pursued by the lieutenant and narrowly escapes capture.  The book tracks the ills of a society which attacks and tries to destroy the Church.  And faith.  Do we see this today?   

In the end, the Whiskey Priest is captured.  And condemned.  He regrets not his imminent death but rather his failings.  His sins.  Green concludes with: 

He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all . . . He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointment place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted—to be a saint.

There are abundant lessons in this work.  But for me, the book seems to distill into one phrase:  “to go to God empty-handed.”  I know that most of those who read these posts volunteer, contribute, help, do good deeds and empathize with the human condition.  But I sometimes wonder – am I doing enough?  Could I do more to make things better?  If every person – spurred by that simple query – did one extra act of kindness, charity or contribution daily, just think about how much better the world might be.