Saturday

The Immanence of God

This semester marked my first foray into the novels of Graham Greene. Although his books have been recommended to me for some time, I believe my delay in reading The End of the Affair and The Power and the Glory worked in his favor.
There are elements in both novels that are (and of a right should be) repellent and to which an imagination in formation ought not be exposed. Greene, along with most other authors of his century, walks a shadowy line between degradation that does not bear speaking of and the agonizing truths of the human condition and our own age in particular. After rumination on both the aforementioned novels, it seems clear to me that Greene's portrayal of human frailty, vivid and harrowing as it is, more powerfully drives home the need and reality of God's grace.
The End of the Affair follows the sordidly mundane adultery of Sarah and the narrator as they find solace in each other and in their daily sin. Their situation is posed in such a way that the reader might almost sympathize; after all, Sarah's husband is dull and oblivious, while her lover understands her and needs her as much as she him. Greene is able to turn this on its head by Sarah's abrupt ending of the affair.

Greene's craftsmanship is marvelous as he follows the narrator's journey through confusion and sorrow to the full recognition that Sarah has chosen someone else over him. Just who that Someone is remains murky for him up to the end, as he continues to tempt Sarah to lapse back to their comfortable debauchery. The grace that saves her at the end is as sudden and difficult for him to understand as that grace which pulled her out of the relationship in the first place. In both instances, Greene manages to convey the jarring reality and harrowing nature of miracles and our unavoidable need for grace.

Grace glimmers through the entirety of The Power and the Glory as well. Disturbing in its portrayal of priests as drunkards and cowards, the novel reinforces the reality of ex opere operato. As a human being, the priest at the center of the story is perhaps even more flawed and sinful than the average Catholic Mexican. But the true importance of his role as a priest in the ravages of persecution in 1930's Mexico comes across with clarity, force, and beauty. This weakling somehow manages to stumble from village to village, confessing, baptizing and saying Mass; in spite of his worst vices, he understands that he is still "able to put God into their mouths." In the manner of a true classic, this message remains incredibly pertinent in the current age. This generation has more cause than many to understand the all too human frailty of our clergy, and it has never been more necessary to understand that the reality of the Blessed Sacrament is not predicated on the sanctity of the priest, thank God, thank God.