In this article, Fr Gilbert Scicluna explores what it means for a person to have a relationship with God by making particular recourse to the epochal film, Les Misérables.
I have this habit or vice —call it what you like—of spending days listening to the same song over and over again. Generally, it’s because the words or harmony strike a chord or an emotion which is not acknowledged or deciphered immediately but needs to go through a process of fermentation in order to bring out its best taste. My latest fad was “One More Day” from “Les Misérables”. Although it’s the type of story you’ll probably find on a ‘spiritual’ reading/movie list, the ‘religious’ overtones in it are very strong, particularly the notions of conversion, redemption, forgiveness and the possibility of salvation. The song “One Day More” can be considered to be, to some extent, the summation of all subplots and character developments of the musical, all with their specific tone, rhythm and pitch. Interestingly enough, the song begins and ends with a reference to God. The very first lines go like this:
One day more
Another day, another destiny
This never-ending road to Calvary
And then, at the end, all the characters sing in one chorus:
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store
One more dawn
One more day
One day more
Yet what struck me most was that, although the song primarily speaks of love, despair, passion, revolution, justice and corruption, it also says something about life in relationship with God. What do I mean by this?
Let us first explore the characters. First, there is Jean Valjean who, after the aforementioned introduction, keeps on repeating “one day more”, as if it were the chorus of the last thread of hope along the climatic drama of this most intense moment. Then there are the lovers, Marius and Cosette, who confess that they really started to live when their eyes met. Then there’s Eponine, the secret or rejected lover who nonetheless cooperates with the lovers to make their relation work-out or collapse at the same time, with Marius’ suicidal decision to join the revolution. In addition to this, there’s inspector Javert, the paladin of justice, who ultimately takes justice to the absurd extremes of committing suicide because his sense of justice was only ‘punitive’ and not ‘restorative’ – this led him to collapse when confronted with the selfless effort of Valjean to save the wounded Marius.
I think I can pass over the opportunist Thenardiers, and go to Enjolras, the leader of the revolution and his friends of the ABC, whose passion for freedom makes them pay the highest price, leaving only grief and empty chairs at empty tables—if there were any left after the construction of the barricade! But that’s another story.
Maybe, because I’m partly insane, I found myself trying to sing each note and relating to all these emotions on the level of ‘faith’. In a sense, I think the fiercest battles are fought in the silence of our hearts, not between the ‘Devil’ and the ‘Guardian Angel’, as we used to sometimes see in the Tom and Jerry shows! These battles are between me and God, my will and His will, my perception of self-perfection and his way of helping me achieve it after my first naïve “yes” of my first encounter with him.
Now, amidst all this journey – in our relationship with God – there’s always the risk of becoming bitter and cynical – especially when this battle is prolonged and not undertaken in the right spirit—which is the combative spirit. One here may naturally be faced by doubts, fears, shame, helplessness, dejection … and yet, if only some love perseveres – if only some effort remained on our part to just let ourselves be guided and helped (not to depend on ourselves alone, but to surrender and ask God to give us the help that we truly need) – if only a trembling “yes” remained amidst all the darkness and the fundamental loneliness of oneself, then one day the dawn can break again!
This dawn is experiencing our own beauty with humility, it is recognising that love is primarily personal and even eternal – that love itself gave us life and loves us, at each moment, selflessly. This is all a journey. It’s a journey where doubt and faithlessness are also central and where authentic searching takes on the primary stride! I might well be over-reading into the plot. Yet it is freeing to know that encountering God face to face is possible even in this life.
If only we are willing to spend the whole night genuinely and authentically ‘struggling’ with Him, until we have enough reason and trust to surrender and receive our true and beloved Self in return!
Fr Gilbert Scicluna
Gilbert Scicluna is a Catholic Priest, currently serving at the parish of Christ the King, Paola, and co-editor of the website behold.mt.
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