Last night I went to see Les Miserables at the local outdoor theatre here. That story both breaks and warms my heart, usually leaving a puddle underneath my seat as I weep. Each time I see something new that touches me deeper and brings certain elements of the story alive. When I saw the play the first time, I cried at several points. At the movie a few years ago, the tears fell in the opening act watching the prisoners be mistreated, because of the volunteer work that I do with inmates. This time, it was Empty Chairs at Empty Tables that did me in. As Marius sang, a curtain showed his friends partying behind him, reminiscent of what was. I comprehended for the first time, how thin that veil between heaven and earth is.
My emotions are still in turmoil lately. Tears leak out at the oddest times and this play triggered mine. As I watched Fantine return for Jean Valjean as he was dying, I thought of how my grandmother in her final hours would throw open her arms as if welcoming a sight unseen of someone she desired to embrace. I have always wondered who she saw during those times.
I believe we will be escorted by angels and our departed loved ones to a place where there will be no more suffering and pain. I have wondered what that moment will be like as we let go and slip away into a realm unknown, yet glimpsed at on occasion from this earth. We dream a dream and will only know it upon waking on the other side. This is Mystery.
Life is also full of mystery. The stories of Jean Valjean’s redemption, Fantine’s love for Cosette, and Javert’s rejection of his awakening all reveal choices. I am reminded of something Fr. James Martin, sj, recently wrote on Facebook about something Sr. Helen Prejean recommends: no one should be judged on the worst thing he or she ever did. This is very true for Valjean whose transformation allows the audience to hope that they too might be able to make choices for the good. As St. Ignatius says, we are loved sinners. God loves us despite our worst sin.
The play gives a clear insight of how we can hang on to our bitterness or be freed from it to love, serve and honour God as Valjean chooses. Alternatively, Javert’s dog-with-a-bone rigid religiosity closes his heart to love and he cannot understand how to be free once Valjean releases him. His heart of stone confuses him and despairing, the life that is granted is rejected. He cannot live with this new insight.
Each moment of life brings decisions and outcomes. What is so key in the Spiritual Exercises is that we pay attention to consolation and desolation. Discernment will help us make wise decisions. The Examen shows us God’s movements during our days. Many of the characters in Les Miserables make excellent decisions and use good discernment tools. Watching each person make good or bad decisions teaches us that we have a choice. Prayer can change us if we are open.
Have you ever had to make a choice that transformed you in a good way?
What were the consequences of a choice that was not life-giving?
Do you pray through your choices before making them?
God of Freedom
You allow us to decide
We can be bitter or better
What will I choose?