Over 80 years ago Georges Bernanos wrote this novel about a fictional priest beginning his work at a fictional parish in northern France. Whether you grew up Catholic or Pentecostal - if you're committed to your faith - you will find a kindred spirit in Bernanos' main character - the newly minted young priest - who's ascetic, earnest, and awkward. He'd fit right in to 2017! Soon - everyone is having fun at the young priest's expense - the villagers find him curious - if not a little frightening. The girls in the catechism conspire to make a mockery of him. Some declare him "the best sort" others make him out to be a drunken instigator. He even receives an anonymous note from a "well wisher" - who has just one suggestion for him: "Leave"
Despite all this - the young priest digs in - and soon finds that his only real friend - is his diary. He tells it all - though not permanently - sometimes filled with fits of regret for what he's written he goes back and scratches out words, lines - and even tears out whole pages. At one point he sets a date for himself to toss it into the fire - and still continues to write and chronicle life in the little community. He also processes within the diary's pages his own humble beginnings - the unfortunate and untimely death of his mother while he was still a boy - his noble father who disowns him - and his time spent being raised in a seedy, run-down bar.
The earnestness of the young priest and how he's such an easy mark for harassment and entertainment isn't what makes the novel so good - all that is what makes it endearing. But what really makes it a compelling read - is the way he not only devotes himself fully to the hard task of winning over the rural community - including turning a woman who'd lost her faith back to the fold - consoling another priest who's closest friend commits suicide - and the way he himself deals with his own terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer. The priest himself waivers between losing and deepening his faith. Bernanos has his character recording all these events and more within the pages of the priest's diary - which reads in general - like conversations that we could have with one another now over topics of great weight and their intersection with faith. The book ends with the priest's last words - with which he more firmly rooted in his faith than ever whispers, "Grace is everywhere."
It's not hard to understand how the book was awarded the Grand Prix for Literature - and was declared by USA Today to be the Best Spiritual Book of the 20th Century. This one wasn't available through my library - but I know where you could borrow a copy.