Even with its heavy sermonizing and Miller-Lite dialogue, this contemporary tale--about a wayward Catholic priest who clings to a vibrant central faith despite post-Vatican II turmoil and his own angers and fears--has a certain abrasive conviction. Dennis Hogan, ""runt of the litter"" in a large congenial Catholic family, was in boyhood and youth a run-of-the-mill hellion--frequent target of the muscular discipline of no-nonsense Monsignor Maguire, local clerical tsar. And Dennis is stunned when his adored cousin Mike Hogan--righteous maverick and gambler extraordinary--an-nounces in 1957 that he intends to become a priest. But then, just as suddenly, Dennis is given his vocation in 1963 Rome--when a stray thought sticks and confirms what he'd always known: ""If I could become a priest only to say one Mass, it was something I had to do."" So Dennis is at the seminary with Mike when the Church is ""hit broad-side"" with changes in liturgy, rules, ritual. . . and threats of schisms. To Dennis, of the media generation, Latin is meaningless, as is the old authoritarian lattice-work of rules; for Mike, who doesn't care where the altar is placed but loves Gregorian chants, it's a matter of central belief and the quality of individual men. Both squeak through to ordination. Fr. Dennis' first post is in an inner-city parish, under a greedy Monsignor who'll use his Church for forbidden Latin masses. (""Pissing against Niagara Falls,"" says Mike). The strain of witnessing cruelty and stupidity leaves Dennis shaken, vulnerable; he begins--and can't end--an affair with loving nurse ""Lippsy"" Smith; the Church relocates him, under Mike's wing, to an ""ordinary"" small town, where there are two half-filled Catholic churches. But here the stress is no less: pressuring lay leaders are in love with externals, have lost a deeper truth; their liberal counterparts--Catholic clerical activists--are martyrdom-hungry; there's injustice and prejudice. Then the two churches plan two separate Christmas processions--with two baby Jesuses. ""This year,"" Mike proclaims bitterly, ""Mary had twins"". . . indicative of ""the present state of Catholicism."" And though Dennis will leave the priesthood for a time, at Mike's death he knows he'll ""go the distance."" From a priest in upstate New York: a largely familiar tale of recent clerical strains--with less slickness and more sentimentality than Andrew M. Greeley, but with a steady, effective insistence on the message.