Written by: Mike McCann
I recently watched the movie Les Miserables (adapting the play adapted from the original 19th-century novel) and was deeply moved. Not only is the film uplifted by staggeringly powerful performances, but it is also a deeply Christian production. While Victor Hugo, the original author, was heavily criticized for his anti-clerical, anti-establishment beliefs (stemming from, in my opinion, being an unfortunate victim of the French Revolution) he continued to express his Christianity through his writings, the most famous being Les Mis. Hugo, perhaps without even realizing it, goes to the core of our faith through the themes expressed in the story. While there are many themes that are worthy to explore, the most prominent is what I would like to reflect upon.
The story follows a man, Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. After 19 years of forced labour, he is released on parole, but is also branded a dangerous convict. Making his way out of the prison, he stops for the night in a small town where he attempts to find shelter, but cannot find any due to his damning mark. Finally he is taken in by a kindly Catholic priest, who gladly shares all that the church has with him that night. Valjean, driven by the darkness and anger in his heart, steals the priest’s precious silver objects, and attempts to flee the city. He is captured, and when the police bring him before the bishop to return the silver and take Valjean back to prison, the bishop says that he had given the silver to the man; as well, he told him that he had left in such a rush, that he had forgotten the most valuable gift, that of two very valuable candlesticks. The police release a shocked Valjean, and the priest soon tells him that he must use this silver “to become an honest man”. He finally blesses him, and says “By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood, God has raised you out of darkness…I have saved your soul for God.”
This simple act of selfless love by the priest moves Valjean to change his ways, and the story follows his life afterwards on his road to holiness and salvation (I highly recommend the film, it is stunningly moving). Beyond that, the story of Jean Valjean drives home a very powerful message, given in song in the film: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
This week, we are in the midst of “Mission Week” at McMaster University, where the Catholic students have banded together to outreach to the campus as much as possible. We have already encountered hundreds of students (praise God!) and the methodology is simple: after saying a prayer, go up to a person, ask them if they would like to fill out a quick survey, while give them a smile. I cannot tell you how overwhelmingly positive the response has been from so many students, who see in the faces of the Catholic students reaching out to them, a genuine love for Christ and for them, and a genuine desire to bring them to God. A simple smile, a word of encouragement or thanks, a willingness to open up to another about the joy of the peace of Christ – these are some of the practical tools of evangelization, and the Holy Spirit will move very powerfully in one who genuinely applies these to his or her life. We can learn from the humble priest in Les Mis, who was not afraid to love another man for the sake of his soul. While it may seem that one is closed to the work of God in his or her life, a simple act of love can destroy even the highest walls; after all, Jesus’ act of selfless love bridged the impassable gap between God and man, wrought by sin.
I humbly ask for prayers as we continue to reach out to these students throughout the term, that the Spirit may find entrance into their hearts and move them to say ‘yes’ to God’s call, and that we may continue to grow closer to Him and to always remain open to where He wants to send us.
Pray without ceasing!
Movies, by Catholic Chapter House.