The epic story of Jean Valjean remains as vital and relevant today as 150 years ago. “Les Miserables” speaks of timeless themes about God, redemption, and social justice.
Victor Hugo wrote in reaction to what he saw in his day.
- the need for social progress in France and improvement in her treatment of the poor
- the abolishment of the death penalty
- the fight for prison reform
It is ultimately a story of how the actions of “little people” (in the words of one of the musical’s most-popular songs) can change the lives of others.
Perhaps it struck a chord because social problems go beyond frontiers of space and time. People still suffer in ignorance or despair, women sell themselves for bread, children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth
- How different is Fantine from a lower caste mother in Bangladesh?
- How different is Cosette from the orphan in Uganda?
Ralph Middlecamp takes it a step further. He suggests the principal characters of “Les Miserables” can be regarded as “archetypes in the struggle for charity and justice.”
Many can relate to
- Being punished too harshly, misunderstood
- Having to deal with people who think they are better than others and think they have their lives under control, like Inspector Javert
- Finding yourself along with a shockingly high percentage of people, sexually and otherwise exploited, dumped, financially troubled, and embittered like Fantine, the prostitute
- Suffering emotionally, physically abused, and adopted like Cozette, Fantine’s child
- Loving someone without being loved back, like Eponine with Marius
Vincentian Influences and reflections
It strikes a chord in Vincentians when we hear the characters Fantine, Valjean and Eponine, proclaim in song:
Take my hand and lead me to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting
And remember the truth that once was spoken:
To love another person is to see the face of God.
Victor Hugo admired St. Vincent de Paul. He based the character of the Bishop on Vincent de Paul. We, in the Vincentian Family, know that on more than one occasion Vincent spoke about seeing the face of God.
St. Vincent told the first Daughters of Charity
whenever necessity or obedience calls them to the service of persons who are poor and other duties, these must always be preferred to their devotional practices, and reflect that in so doing they are leaving God for God (CCD:XIIIb:138)
For Blessed Rosalie Rendu Paris was not the city of beauty, museums, restaurants and pristine parks. and rivers. She wouldn’t know that city. Rather her Paris was marked by street battles, daily decapitations, sickness and hunger – fear.
Yet she wrote;
“You will go and visit the poor, ten times a day, and ten times a day you will find God there……you go into their poor homes and there you find God.”
“I am a daughter of charity; I have no flag; I help the unfortunate wherever I meet them; I try to do good to them without judging them.
She also mentored a young Fredrick Ozanam. He wrote
Our faith is weak because we cannot see God. But we can see the poor, and we can put our finger in their wounds and see the marks of the crown of thorns.
Both lived in the society that Victor Hugo wrote about.
- What does the face of YOUR God look like?
- What does “leaving God for God” mean for you today during this time of pandemic?
- How have you taken advantage of “a second chance in life”?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.