How do we live in the world?
This existential query serves as the culminating course question of Northwestern College’s First-Year Seminar. And for good reason… the encompassing question lies at the heart of our collective journey through life. Graham Greene, one of the great Christian novelists of the 20th century, wrestles this question in his acclaimed novel, The Power and the Glory. In the tradition of great art, Greene’s powerful story offers rich insights but few pat or easy answers.
Through Greene’s “whisky priest,” we witness a corruptible servant of the church bogged down by sins of weakness: alcohol, the flesh, pride. Ironically, the sin of despair lingers as perhaps the priest’s most destructive and tragic failing. He carries the burden of self-loathing like a weight, unable to realize that the grace he so freely offers to others through the sacraments is also available for him.
Some practitioners of Christian piety may judge the whisky priest harshly for his worldly failings, but to do so neglects his remarkable capacity for humility, wisdom, and pastoral kindness. The Power and the Glory therefore pushes us to wonder, “Why are we so inclined to judge people more for their faults than their virtues?”
My religion teaches me that the corrosive effects of the Fall pollute all of our noble efforts to live well in the world. Thankfully, the story does not end with the Fall. Greene’s example of the whisky priest provides a guiding touchstone as we struggle together to serve as agents of redemption in a broken world. In the face of impossible circumstances, this unassuming priest keeps doing his job. May his service and sacrifice for the kingdom inspire us all to be more like another humble minister who also wandered through the world in beggar’s clothing.