I was hesitant about seeing this musical. It was all about suffering! How on earth does that sound like an enjoyable thing to watch? That sounded crazy. I usually love musicals you know, with the happy dancing and music and the big finish at the end…but I realized in Les Miserables, the suffering was key. Without it we don’t see the contrast. “To love another person is to see the face of God”, after all, was the message. You’re not really in love if you aren’t able to sacrifice and suffer for someone other than yourself.
The suffering molds us and brings us outside of ourselves. Fantine dies and gives her out-of-wedlock daughter everything she’s got. Through the kindness of a Bishop, Jean Valjean experiences the one moment of true unconditional kindness, and becomes a man utterly devoted to Cossette, and then because he loves her so much he carries her love, Marius, through the barricades and the sewers across France to return him to her after the revolution. Love makes us insane, beyond reasonable. And better than we’d ever imagined to hope to be. Jean Valjean became a man no longer bitter, and only grateful for his life. Every opportunity to be kind, he then sought to take. He saved the life of the constable (Jalvert) who hunted him down for decades when he had the opportunity. Talk about turning the other cheek, most fantastically!
Jean Valjean’s strength throughout so many key parts of the story reminded me of Pope Francis’ homily on suffering: “To suffer is to take the difficulty and to carry it with strength, so that the difficulty does not drag us down. To carry it with strength: this is a Christian virtue. Saint Paul says several times: Suffer [endure]. This means do not let ourselves be overcome by difficulties. This means that the Christian has the strength not to give up, to carry difficulties with strength. Carry them, but carry them with strength. It is not easy, because discouragement comes, and one has the urge to give up and say, ‘Well, come on, we’ll do what we can but no more.’ But no, it is a grace to suffer. In difficulties, we must ask for [this grace], in difficulty.”