During Lent, Sean is leading us through a reflection on the Gospel using Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, in all its manifestations: the novel, the musical, the movie(s). This web of interlocking stories revolves around the pilgrim’s progress of convict Jean Valjean. It is as if a spiritual geography were laid out before us like a model train diorama, and we could see the comings and goings in all its miniature souls. Valjean’s story is the center, true--- a journey from hatred through grace to redemption. But the scope of the book makes it clear that the breadth of the transformation in view can hardly be contained in a single life.
Goodness flames in these pages in a way it rarely does in our imaginations. There is Jean Valjean’s intrepid courage. But it shines no stronger than the single mother Fantine’s heartbreaking love for her daughter, or the unprompted mercy of the priest who—though Valjean steals virtually all he has---refuses to send him back to prison.
The contrasts are just as vivid. Opposite Valjean’s grateful growth through grace there is his pursuer, police inspector Javert, who would literally rather die than receive it. Beside Fantine there is the unctuous Thenardier whose viciousness (he roams the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo stealing from the dead and wounded….and speeding some of the latter on their way) the musical version chose to soften with roguish charm. Yet neither the good or the bad feel quite out of the range of our understanding. We can see how we might be them…. and in fact already are.
Why read or think about something alongside the gospels themselves, in these days of Lent? For the same reason we listen to personal testimony: to see the same story fresh as it lives in lives like ours. New installments always welcome.