This is a very nice reflection from The Catholic Thing on the work of Graham Greene, reminding us of the great truth that we are all sinners, walking within and towards eternity.
“Graham Greene, the equivocally Catholic novelist, writing against the background of the Mexican Revolution in The Power and the Glory, pitted the pursuing Jefe against a pursued alcoholic priest to contrast the worldly view of life and the religious view. The one man represents the confidence that there is a political man-made solution to human life, one that requires the elimination of distracting other-worldly views. The priest of course represents those distracting other-worldly views, with their consciousness of sin and the need for redemption. Call it the contrast of church and state.
“The Jefe pursues the weak and fallen priest who somewhat reluctantly and with a sense of his own unworthiness fulfills his role, saying Mass, hearing confessions, baptizing, in a dangerous environment. At one point in the story, the priest has the opportunity of escaping across the border to the United States. He looks across at the glitter, the ease, the safety from pursuit, seemingly heaven on earth. This gives Greene an early opportunity to vent his dislike for America. It is clear that we are to see Gringoland as the apotheosis of the Pelagianism represented by the Jefe. The priest turns back and resumes his furtive ministry, knowing that it can only lead to his execution, as it does.
“It is a powerful scene. In his travel book on Mexico, The Lawless Roads, Greene cited Cardinal Newman’s remark about Original Sin – it is inescapable that some primordial catastrophe occurred, the effects of which hang over human history. Original Sin as a matter of observation, not simply doctrine.
“Kierkegaard wrote that before you throw a rock, you are free to do so or not, but once you have thrown it, you cannot unthrow it, so to speak. Sin is like that. We can commit it, all too easily, but we cannot undo it without the forgiveness of God. We cannot save ourselves. Greene underscores the gratuitousness of God’s mercy by making the priest a weak and sinful man. We cannot imagine him defying the firing squad, shouting, Viva Cristo Rey!”