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Fr. Barron comments on "Les Misérables" (SPOILERS)
The Catholicity of this movie struck me as I exited the theater. I appreciate your take on it Father B.
1/15/2013 4:33:31 AM
I concur with Fr Barron in the connection he draws between Javert's suicide and the concept of damnation. In fact, I think the novel and movie shed light on the concept of heaven as well, and even help us begin to understand the Catholic concept of purgatory.
I have grown fond of saying that heaven is not a place, but rather a person; perhaps more specifically, heaven is an existence that fully participates in, and communes with, the life of a certain person, that person being the God of the Universe, who creates and supports and is the essential premise of existence itself. Hell then, for lack of a better term, is an existence outside, or in rejection, of the life of that very same person.
Even those of us who accept the foregoing proposition, often have a fairly unserious view of what it means to be someone who fully participates in, and communes with, the life of pure and unselfish Love, which is to say, the life of the God of the Universe. To be someone who can be happy there, who can tolerate that existence, who can survive in that environment, and who not only longs for such an existence but would actually choose it when offered to them, is to be someone who lives wholly and completely for others, for whom self-concern is utterly lacking, for whom life itself is a gift that is in turn to be given to others, and for whom the good of the other as other is the first and abiding inclination of their heart and act of their will.
Who among us can claim that disposition as their own? Few indeed, in all of history – and we call them saints.
That is the problem of heaven and hell, and the drama that underlies our essential freedom and the manner in which we exercise it. What we often forget is that every second of every day – and over the arc of our lives – we are creating the person that we are at our very core. Through our thoughts and choices and actions and omissions, through what we seek and desire and what we tolerate and abide, through what we aspire to and what we fear or shun, through our habits and rituals or lack thereof, through what we honor and dishonor – through the entire collective input and output of our lives, we are creating the person we will be when we transition to the next phase of our existence. We do not shed that person in or through death; to the contrary, it is the very essence of our being, the part of us that survives death and arms us – for better or worse – for the next stage of our lives.
And to that end, we will either be a person who is perfectly and only comfortable in, and drawn to, a life of worship and service and the unselfish love of others, or a person who rejects and is incapable of, or made miserable by, the life of sacrificial love. Or – and this is most of us – we will be a person who occupies an ambiguous middle ground, where we do not reject the life of unselfish love but at best can only aspire to it, weighed down by the remaining vestiges of our self-concern.
I often wonder why the devil himself, and the lower demons we read of in the Gospel, do not simply repent and escape their misery? After all, God is pure love, and as pure love His mercy is infinite and willing to forgive the most egregious of sinners, even the devil himself, if they but repent and ask for His mercy, consistent with their eternal freedom and the economy of justice. But they never do. They continue to choose the misery of a life outside of God’s inner life, because they have made themselves into beings that cannot live any portion of a life of pure love, cannot abide an existence of service and worship, and refuse above all to surrender their self-concern.
Sound familiar? No wonder Scripture instructs us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
We can turn ourselves into devils – that is what Javert did, and when confronted by the possibility of mercy and a life of love, he rejected it, and life altogether, because he could not abide a world marked by such things. We can turn ourselves into saints – that is what Valjean did, and when confronted by the reality of an orphaned Cosette, he instinctively offered his life as a gift of love in support of hers, because living for the other had become the very purpose of life for Valjean.
Or, and again this is most of us, we can turn ourselves into something in between – and when presented with the options of pure love or self-love, we will prove fickle and inconstant, or unsteady and paralyzed and frozen in place, like a block of slowly melting ice, transitioning from one state to another. This grayness of purpose, this ambiguous existence, in a space that is neither wholly warmed by love nor embittered by the lack of love, this purgatory – for lack of a better term – is at once joyless and painless, but in the end not hopeless. And therein lies the key. So long as we are struggling to become a person of pure love, so long as that is what we aspire to and sincerely work toward in thought and deed, then while we may be in a purgatory, we yet have the hope of heaven. It is only when we lay down that struggle, when we reject the accessible truth and reality of such a love, that we abandon all hope of heaven, and choose to spend eternity outside of its embrace.
1/25/2013 3:20:33 PM
You hit the nail on the head! All the points you bring out can easily be seen and understood. One of my favorite parts is the scene with the bishop. I think about that scene every time a needy person comes to the Church or the Rectory seeking help.
Years ago, I read the book and saw the play several times on Broadway. I thought the movies was by far the best. For the most part, I am not a sentimental person when it comes to watching movies, etc., but by the end of the movie I could not fight back the tears. Throughout the movie I was constantly using my sleeve to dry my eyes. God's grace, redemption, resurrection was so apparent, how can there be a dry eye.
When Javert committed suicide, I thought of Judas when he hung himself, verse Peter who was able to accept Christ's grace and forgiveness which was offered to him. You don't have to be a Catholic to get the point. Anyone coming out of a Christian vocation will get the point.
I cannot wait until the movie comes out in Blu-Ray.
1/29/2013 12:34:39 PM
Thanks Fr. Russell. I think the connection you draw between Javert and Judas is spot on. Perhaps there is a corresponding connection between Valjean and Peter?
When I think of Javert's suicide, I remember hearing someone -- Fr Larry Richards I think -- saying that if you want to know what heaven is like, go to Mass. I think of that because I wonder how many of us would choose heaven if we were told it was an eternal Mass? And that's the point. God doesn't send us to hell. Rather, we turn ourselves into people who can't abide heaven. If I am honest with myself, that thought is as chilling as the scene of Javert's suicide.
1/29/2013 2:07:47 PM
I Like that Tom, "If you want to know what heaven is like, go to Mass." I tell my people that the Mass is the foretaste to the Heavenly Banquet.
God doesn't send us to hell or damnation. He came to redeem and save us. As Fr. Barron so eloquently says, "Love is giving one's own self for the sake of the other." Well, that is what Jesus did on the Cross.
God gave us a free will and if a person wishes to spend eternity apart from God - then I guess God will honor that, but that is the person's choice, not God. That is why I tend to understand purgatory as a grace where God's love still offers the soul of the departed person the opportunity to be united with Him in Heaven.
1/29/2013 2:29:49 PM
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Answering the Skeptics
Book of Eli
Fr. Robert Barron
Of Gods and Men
Pope John Paul
To Rome With Love
Tree of Life
Word From Rome
Word On Fire
The Limits of Tolerance: A commentary by Fr. Barron
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Pope Francis and The Religious Sense: A commentary by Fr. Barron
Pier Giorgio Frassati: A commentary by Fr. Barron
Gay Marriage and the Breakdown of Moral Argument: A commentary by Fr. Barron
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