The book is about a priest in Mexico in the 30s when the church was prohibited and priests were persecuted.
The main character is last priest in a southern Mexican state. He is wandering from village to village around since years, constantly hiding and giving masses always on the run. Finally a determined police lieutenant hunts him down and the priest is executed. Yert this priest is certainly not the martyr you expect as he is a whiskey priest and he actually has a daughter.
“What am I here for? Memory drained out of him in the heat.” (Greene, 1940, p.4).
“He said: “The set is nearly finished. Tonight,” he promised wildly. It was, of course, quite impossible; but that was how one lived, putting off everything.” (Greene, 1940, p.5).
“He had protuberant eyes: he gave an impression of unstable hilarity, as if perhaps he had been celebrating a birthday … alone.” (Greene, 1940, p.6).
“”Are you a Catholic?”
“No, no. Just an expression. I don’t believe in anything like that.” He said irrelevantly: “It’s too hot anyway.” (Greene, 1940, p.8).
“But he could feel her stiffen: the word “life” was taboo: it reminded you of death. She turned her face away from him towards the wall and then opelessly back again – the phrase “turn to the wall” was taboo, too. She lay panic-stricken, while the boundaries of her fear widened and widened to include every relationship and the whole world of inanimate things: it was like an infection. You could look at nothing for long without becoming aware that it, too, carried the germ … the word “sheet” even. She threw the sheet off her and said: “It’s so hot, it’s so hot.”” (Greene, 1940, p.46).
“He was aware of an immense load of responsibility: it was indistinguishable from love.” (Greene, 1940, p.584).
“He said: ”Pray that you will suffer more and more and more. Never get tired of suffering. The police watching you, the soldiers gathering taxes, the beating you always get from the jefe because you are too poor to pay, small-pox and fever, hunger … that is all part of heaven – the preparation. Perhaps without them – who can tell? – you wouldn’t enjoy heaven so much. Heaven would not be complete. And heaven. What is heaven?” (Greene, 1940, p.89).
“It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization - it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” (Greene, 1940, p.125).
“It was odd – this fury to deface, because, of course, you could never deface enough. If god had been like a toad, you could have rid the globe of toads, but when God was like yourself, it was no good being content with stone figures – you had to kill yourself among the graves.” (Greene, 1940, p.131).
“He said: “I don’t know how to repent.” That was true: he had lost the faculty. He couldn’t say to himself that he wished his sin had never existed, because the sin seemed to him now so unimportant – and he loved the fruit of it.” (Greene, 1940, p.167).
“When you visualized a man or a woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity … that was a quality God’s image carried with it … when you saw the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.” (Greene, 1940, p.171).
“Nothing in life was as ugly as death.” (Greene, 1940, p.174).
“”You are all alike, you people. You never learn the truth – that God knows nothing.” Some tiny scrap of life like a grain of smut went racing across the page in front of him: he pressed his finger down on it and said: “You edge out between leaves, scurrying for refuge: in this heat there was no end to life.” (Greene, 1940, p.182).
“It was the oddest thing that ever since that hot and crowded night in the cell he had passed into a region of abandonment – almost as if he had died there with the old man’s head on his shoulder and now wandered in a kind of limbo, because he wasn’t good or bad enough … Life didn’t exist any more: it wasn’t merely a matter of the banana station. Now as the storm broke and he scurried for shelter he knew quite well that he would find – nothing.” (Greene, 1940, p.193).
“Why, after all, should we expect God to punish the innocent with more life.” (Greene, 1940, p.203).