When I was a young man, I kept recalling a story about a priest giving away expensive silver candlesticks to a felon, but for over 15 years could not recall where I read it. The silver candlesticks never left me, and I think now that God lodged the story in my soul to shape my future. I came into a deeper relationship with Christ years later, at the age of 26. Later still, when I first saw Les Miserables in the theater, I realized the candlesticks originated from Victor Hugo’s book which I had read during my final year of high school. I now have seen Les Mis several times, and it has become my favorite play.
This morning I found a blog that blew me away. It was written by Charles Klamut, a priest of the diocese of Peoria, Illinois. The blog is about Les Miserables. It’s a beautifully written piece, and the words are magical, even though it is quite long. What astonished me was that the silver candlesticks also changed the life of Rev. Klamut. He writes that while he was in college he reluctantly read about the silver candlesticks, and it changed his life. What follows are excerpts from his own words:
“Valjean is wary of the welcome. Because of the humble trappings, he mistakes the bishop for a simple country priest. Bienvenu offers him food and table fellowship. He repeatedly calls him ‘Monsieur,’ raising Valjean’s head ever higher….When Valjean awakens to make off with the silver [cutlery], he is nearly converted by the sight of the righteous man in his sleep.
“The cops catch him with his contraband cutlery and drag him before the bishop, who with a word can send Valjean back to prison for life. Instead, he gives truth to Valjean’s lie that the silver was given and offers him the candlesticks too.…The police leave. Valjean stands before the merciful gaze of his benefactor. Bienvenu calls him his brother and tells him he has bought his soul for God with the silver; now he must go, using it to become an honest man.
“He (the bishop) treated Valjean as he treated everyone: as Christ would. Bienvenu was the unknowing mover of all that was to follow. But for his act of mercy toward Valjean, the whole beautiful story would not have been.
“I read Les Misérables in a week. It was the perfect book at the perfect time, with soul-shaking impact. For a long time afterward, I went over and over it in my mind and in my heart. This was when it hit me. I thought of the bishop, and the impact he made and what his priesthood meant. I can remember praying, ‘Lord, if that’s what it’s about, if my life can do that….sign me up.’ And the rest, as they say, is history”.
As Christians we may never know what good may follow our giving and our acts of mercy, or how lives are changed. We often just sow the seeds.
Post-script: Last week I had dinner with friends at Cracker Barrel, a popular high-carb home-cooking restaurant. Taylor at 20 is a beautiful girl with blonde hair frizzled on her shoulders. She sits at the threshold of life, trying to determine her path, and not afraid to ask honest questions about God: “Why does an all-powerful and loving God allow death and destruction to innocent people, as happened with Hurricane Sandy that hit New York and New Jersey?”
One answer to Taylor’s question appears in a comment posted by a reader at the end of Rev. Klamut’s blog:
“Let us ponder Monseigneur Bienvenu’s habit of wandering his garden at night, thinking of the grandeur and presence of God, seeking not to comprehend the incomprehensible…not studying God; but rather being dazzled by Him”
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
“Rather is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every [enslaving] yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house? ….Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your healing [your restoration and the power of a new life] shall spring forth speedily” (Isaiah chapter 58).
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