May Reading List
I just finished Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, which is a novel about a fugitive Roman Catholic priest in Mexico during its fascist period. Called only the "Whiskey Priest," the main character spends most of his time coping with his own moral failures as he brings the sacraments to the citizens of the Mexican state of Tabasco, and evades the state's attempts to eradicate the Christian Faith. Greene examines what it really means to be a saint, behind pious but ultimately empty hagiographies.
The background of the book is the era in Mexican history called the Maximato. I'll go ahead and call this period "little known" in the United States, seeing as I've never heard of it, and I'm hardly a slouch when it comes to history. According to Wikipedia, the very reliable source of all completely factual information, from 1928-1935 Mexico was controlled by Plutarco Elias Calles. He was vigorously anti-Catholic and especially anti-clerical. Under the pretense of extending the separation of Church and state, Calles enacted extremely oppressive laws against the clergy, seized Church lands, banned religious orders, and expelled foreign priests. Many states went even further, and by 1934 there were only about 330 priests to serve a population of more than 15 million. These policies resulted in the Cristero War, a Roman Catholic uprising in which 90,000 people died.
The background of the story is important, because Greene paints the Christian life as one that takes place in crisis. The whiskey priest could escape the desperation of his existence by merely ceasing to be a priest or by fleeing Tabasco to a less oppressive state. Yet again and again he finds himself as the mercy of his circumstances, and he is given the choice to let suffering crush him or let it redeem him.