The Keys of the Kingdom is the moving story of the spiritual struggle of a young priest, Father Francis Chisholm. Often at loggerheads with the hierarchy of the church, Francis was unconventional in many ways, although fervent in his faith and its outworking.
Set in both Scotland and a remote region of China between about 1870 and 1938, the story follows his childhood and the events leading to his decision to enter the priesthood. It portrays his hard won successes and his great disappointments; his individualistic tendencies that sometimes won him no friends, and his humility that opened unlikely hearts and doors.
This was a beautiful work of fiction that reached into my heart.
Francis was overlooked and misunderstood throughout his life. Those who had to work closely with him often despised him at the first. One such person was the proud Mother Maria-Veronica who had decided to leave the Chinese mission until Canon Anselm Mealey, a boyhood companion of Francis who ‘had made a fine thing of his life,’ came to inspect the mission.
After Anselm had left, Father Chisholm was meditating amongst the debris of his church which had been destroyed by flooding just before Anselm’s visit.
There was little courage in him now. These last two weeks, the perpetual effort to sustain his visitor’s patronizing tone, had left him void. Yet perhaps Anselm was justified. Was he not a failure, in God’s sight and in man’s? He had done so little. And that little, so laboured and inadequate, was almost undone. How was he to proceed? A weary hopelessness of spirit took hold of him.
As Francis was thinking thus, Mother Mary-Veronica came out to him:
“I have something to say to you…
I am most bitterly and grievously sorry for my conduct towards you. From our first meeting I behaved shamefully, sinfully. The devil of pride was in me…
I have known now for weeks that wanted to come to you…to tell you…but my pride, my stubborn malice restrained me. These last ten days, in my heart, I have wept for you…the slights and humiliations you have endured from that gross and worldly priest, who is unworthy to tie your shoe. Father, I hate myself – forgive me, forgive me…”
“So now you will not leave the mission?”
“No, no…” Her heart was breaking. “If you will let me stay. I have never known anyone whom I wished so much to serve…Yours is the best…the finest spirit I have ever known.”
The Keys of the Kingdom shows what really matters in the long run. Francis had asked God to judge him less by his deeds than by his intention and his intentions had always been honourable.
Lovely, lovely book.
The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin is my selection for the Back to the Classics 2017 Challenge: 20th Century Classic