The Power and the Glory : Novel Summary: Part 3 – Chapter 1

For three days the priest has been staying at the home of the elderly Mr. Lehr, a German widower, and his sister, Miss Lehr, both of whom are Lutherans. The priest feels as if he has wasted three days in luxury, and is told it will take him four to six days to reach Las Casas, a city with churches and a university. He learns from Mr. Lehr, as they bathe in the river, that saying Mass is illegal in the state, but the punishment is only a fine.
The priest goes to the village, where he agrees to hear confessions and to baptize. He reduces the price of baptism from two pesos to one peso fifty, because the people are poor. He feels wealthy, compared to the way he has been living, and he also enjoys the respect people show him. A man persuades him to drink some brandy, and he also buys some bottles for the journey he plans to make to Las Casas. He reduces the fee for the baptisms to one peso.
Back with the Lehrs, the priest promises himself he will drink no more brandy after the bottles he bought are gone. He has just finished hearing confessions in the Lehrs’ barn, and this has left him with a heavy heart.
After the second Mass he has given in the barn, the priest prepares to depart for Las Casas in the north. There are two mules and an Indian guide waiting for him. But there is also the mestizo man whom the priest last saw in the jail. The mestizo says he is on an errand of mercy. The gringo is dying and needs a priest. The man is near the border with the state where the priest was persecuted. The priest suspects a trap, but the man insists he is a good Catholic and can be trusted. He shows the priest a note written by the dying American, asking for a priest. He also explains that the dead child (the one the priest found at the village near the banana station) was shot by the soldiers as the American used it as a shield. The priest reluctantly agrees to head south, back where he came from, even though he is convinced the man is setting a trap for him.
Although the priest is now relatively free to perform his tasks of hearing confession and baptizing, this does not leave him any the less distressed. He feels that he is slipping back into what he calls the “habit of piety” that he had when he was a younger priest. By that he means going through the motions of his priestly function without feeling any real compassion or understanding. He seems to spend a very long time haggling over money, and is more concerned with how much he will be able to take with him to the city than with saving souls. Several times in the novel he has looked back at his younger self with distaste, and now he seems to be lapsing back into the way he used to be—and in the process giving the reader some insight into why people like the lieutenant have such negative opinions about priests.
After he leaves the village, the recurring pattern of his recent life reasserts itself. The priest is for all intents and purposes free, but he allows himself to be drawn back into a situation of danger. Why? Whatever his lapses and failings, this shows that he still has a deep faith in the efficacy of the Catholic rituals. He believes he can save the dying man by hearing his confession. This priest never manages to scale the heights of heroism, but his actions here show that he has courage and conviction when he needs it. His desire to soothe the passage of the dying American’s soul also shows once again the difference between his attitude and that of the lieutenant. The priest believes in an afterlife, but the lieutenant is concerned only with the life that people lead on earth.