By Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M.
As we start this Lenten season, I had the opportunity to enjoy the show “Les Miserables” performed by the students at Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford. Both the dedication and energy of the young people in the show as well as Victor Hugo’s work have been a source of inspiration as I reflect on the power of forgiveness in our lives.
During this time when we recognize the suffering of so many because of natural disasters, wars, abuses, distrust …when all seems so dark, how do we find the light and hope of God? The protagonist Jean Valjean exemplifies for me how we go on in life in the midst of suffering and even injustice.
After 19 years of being deprived of his freedom for stealing bread (five years for the theft, 12 for four attempted escapes and two for fighting back during one escape attempt) Jean is released to a society where he continues to be identified as an outcast. It is only when he experiences the kindness of Bishop Myriel that he becomes a repentant, dignified man who makes decisions guided by the law of love and integrity.
As Bishop Myriel rescues him from the guards, he says to Jean: “My brother, see in this some high plan. You must use this precious silver to become and honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness: I have bought your soul for God.”
Valjean became an honest man who risked his freedom and life for the sake of his neighbor – the most vulnerable. Throughout his life, Jean challenged the social structure of discrimination and injustice through his acts of charity and forgiveness. He could have chosen revenge and bitterness, but He chose life – life for others and ultimately for Himself.
Jean Valjean invites me to be both a recipient of another’s kindness and also to be the one offering love and sacrificial service to others. May we be able to find the beauty and goodness of people, nature and God in the midst of confusion and pain.
May this Lenten season be an opportunity for all of us to continue trusting in God’s high plan: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice , and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30:15, 19).
Sister Ruth Bolarte, I.H.M., is the director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization in Philadelphia.