Like some of you, I have recently been to see the film Les Misérables. I took Billy and Samuel along, and since the theater was crowded we ended up sitting on the third row, right in front of a group of young girls with kleenex in hand and ourselves with an upclose view down the throats of the actors whose mouths were wide open in powerful song.
Nothing like three guys sharing two large popcorns, a large Pepsi, and an Icee while watching a movie musical, huh ?
Yet, we sat mesmerized for two-and-a-half hours.
Then again, I have always loved the story of Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert, and Les Misérables. I don’t know the spiritual background of its author, Victor Hugo (1802-1885), but the story is one of the most powerful illustrations of redemption I think I’ve ever read. Jean Valjean, the hardened ex-convict on parole, is changed from a life of hatred and regret into a life of compassion, service, and love because of the free gift of an old priest who stands in Valjean’s place when he is on the verge of being returned to prison.
In the book version, considerable time is spent developing the character of that priest, Monseigneur Bienvenu. Here is an excerpt entited “What Monseigneur Bienvenu Thought” which I thought you might enjoy :
There are no bounds to human thought. At its own risk and peril it analyses and explores its own bewilderment. One may almost say that in a kind of transcendent reaction it bewilders nature ; the mysterious world around us gives back what it is given, and probably the contemplators are themselves contemplated. However this may be, there are men – but are they men ? – who clearly discern beyond the horizon of dreaming the heights of the Absolute, who experience the terrible vision of the infinite mountain. Monseigneur Bienvenu was not one of these ; he was not a man of genius. He would have mistrusted those sublimities whence certain men, and very great men such as Swedenborg and Pascal, have lapsed into madness. Such powerful thinking has its value ; it is by these arduous roads that we approach perfection. But he took the short cut, the Holy Gospel.
He did not seek to assume the mantle of Elijah, to shed a light of the future upon the misty turmoil of events or resolve the prevailing light into a single flame ; there was in him nothing of the prophet or the mystic. He was a simple soul who loved, and that was all.
That he expanded prayer to make of it a superhuman aspiration, this is probable. But we can no more pray too much than we can love too much ; and if to pray outside the accepted texts is heresy, then St Teresa and St Jerome were also heretics.
His heart was given to all suffering and expiation. The world to him was like an immense malady. He sensed fever everywhere, sought out affliction and without seeking to answer the riddle did what he could to heal the wound. The awesome spectacle of things as they were enhanced his tenderness ; he was concerned only to find for himself and inspire in others the best means of comfort and relief. The theme of all existing things was, for that good and rare priest, distress in need of consolation.
There are men who dig for gold ; he dug for compassion. Poverty was his goldmine ; and the universality of suffering a reason for the universality of charity. “Love one another.” To him everything was contained in those words, his whole doctrine, and he asked no more. The senator to whom we have referred, the gentleman who thought himself a philosopher, once said to him : “You see what the world is like, every man at war with every other, and victory to the strongest. Your ‘Love one another’ is pure folly.” “Well, if it is folly,” said Monseigneur without disputing the matter, “then the soul must enclose itself within it like the pearl in the oyster.” Which is what he did. He enclosed himself in that folly and was wholly content to do so, putting aside the huge questions that fascinate and terrify, the endless vistas of abstraction, the chasms of metaphysics, all those depths which for the believer converge in God and for the atheist in limbo ….
What a fascinating portrait of a man who, although fictional, modeled qualities we seek to exhibit as followers of Jesus. Would that we truly understood what it means to enclose ourselves in the “folly” of Love One Another. I’m reminded of the great description of love God has given us in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. Verses 6-7 are particularly powerful and challenging and remind me of what the old priest did in showing love to Jean Valjean even though Valjean had committed a great offense against him —
“Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believers all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
(1 Corinthians 13:6-7)
I wonder – do you know how to love this way ? Do I ? To bear all things is a profound love. Most of us don’t do it. Yet, it’s the love Jesus showed (and shows) us and would pour into our lives if we were really open to living in such a radical way. I pray that you and I might learn to live and love like Jesus.
Interestingly, the word “bienvenu” means “welcome” in French. So, this character’s name in English would be “Pastor Welcome.” What a great name ! Would that all of us at Emmanuel could be little Pastor Welcomes – welcoming one another, welcoming newcomers, into the love of Jesus.
Major Gear-Shift Here ! Are you ready ? This does not concern movie musicals …
First Christian Church in Washington, Missouri, is organizing a “Men of the Church” banquet at the end of this month featuring as speaker, Ricky Horton, former St Louis Cardinals pitcher and current announcer for the Cardinals.
Rich Brune is willing to coordinate our going to this event, if you’re interested. He needs to know by next Sunday, January 20, if you are interested in attending the banquet. Could you contact Rich if you would like to attend what will no doubt be an encouraging and inspiring evening.
Location–First Christian Church in Washington
Date–Thursday, Jan. 31st
Time–Doors Open at 5:30
Meal at 6:00
Program at 7:00
Speaker—Ricky Horton, former pitcher of Cardinals & current announcer for them.
He is also the Director of the St Louis Fellowship of Christian Athletes.