“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

Dante and Virgil in hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

J. F Powers meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Society of Judas relates a chilling story of high ideals and human failures, set in a surreal world south of the border.  As I read it, the words of Porfirio Diaz came to mind: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” The protagonist is a zealous priest who finds himself uprooted from the hushed corridors of the Vatican and dropped (against his wishes) into a poor Mexican town.  Dusting himself off and accepting this new state of affairs, he hopes to reverse Diaz’s saying by using American resources to build an orphanage and church to draw the villagers closer to God.

 

Dreams can become nightmares, and Father Mauer finds himself tangled in a web of treachery and deceit worthy of the pen of Graham Greene.  As the story unfolds the reader marvels, not only at the depth of malevolence, but at the fact that it is carried out by “the devout”: prelates, nuns, lay people who have vowed themselves to the highest standards of Christian discipleship.  Corruptio optimi pessima: it is precisely the religious commitment of the actors that makes this drama so chilling.

 

This is not simply a tale of flawed characters and human weakness; the events related here are a far cry from the garden-variety failures of any religious person due to human imperfection. There is an unseen agent, a being of superhuman intelligence and utter depravity, who labors ceaselessly to foment suspicion and betrayal.  This novel is about the power of the Evil One, who works both sides of the border; and no walls can keep him out.

 

The Society of Judas, indeed: our gentle Savior was marked out for death by the kiss of a friend.  He did not summon legions of angels to defend him; he did not overwhelm the soldiers who lay prostrate at his feet; he did not slip away into the darkness shrouding the olive grove. Jesus handed himself over, and it was only by embracing betrayal in obedience to the Father’s will that the mystery of human iniquity was overcome.  The mystery of divine submission to human treachery is at the heart of our faith.  That faith alone sheds the light of mercy into the dark recesses of human heart.  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer 17:9-10)

 

Milton Walsh, Author: In Memory of Me, Second Friends, and Into All Truth

 

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