Les Misérables and St Theresa of Avila

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

I went to see the film version of Les Misérables yesterday with my friends. I have seen the musical twice already in London but it’s such an amazing score and such a stirring story that I was more than happy to see what a film cast would make of it. If you don’t know the story I won’t spoil too much of it for you but it does focus very heavily on redemption and repentance and on the horrific circumstances that humans create and end up in.

The plot is taken from the book by Victor Hugo and focuses on 19th Century Revolutionary France following the life of a convict called Jean Valjean who is given a chance for freedom by a parish priest after he steals his silver. The story weaves through the life of a “fallen woman” forced into prostitution, her daughter, a revolutionary young aristocrat and a lawman, Javerre. There are so many lessons and inspirations that can be taken out of the story about the horror of life, of predjudice and of the failure to have mercy. But what struck me as I watched it yesterday was a real understanding of the prayer of St Theresa of Avila,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

When the whole world and all the ‘good’ people have told you that you are nothing why would you be seeking out God. They claim to represent him, so he certainly wouldn’t be interested in you. You might pray for release and get none. Why should you believe? Our physical bodies are how we interact with creation, if they show us nothing but pain, filth and rejection it’s going to be pretty hard for us to rejoice in the beauty of Christ.

I think back on all the people I have hurt, all the times when I have responded with an idiotic pride, all the times when I have cared more to make a joke than to respect another person and it makes me ashamed of how I have treated others and as much how I have dirtied their picture of God, and perhaps given them reason to move further away from him. We are all guilty as each other, I’m not claiming any special nastiness here.

It’s a solemn thing when it comes home to you like that. The only way through it is to remember that in the end it’s not about you/me. We have to believe that if I drive someone further away another person can demonstrate God’s love and perhaps draw them nearer and perhaps that as long as we can recognise it God can do something else, somewhere else with our lives.

But it is really important that there are people who need God who are not going to walk into our churches on Sunday morning with smiles and open hearts, they are unlikely to seek silence in order to commune with Him. They only have us and we have to brave enough to respond openly to others and humble enough to keep going when we fail, because it is the chief way he has set up to touch this world.


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