I apologize again for being remiss in posting these last few days.
I spoke yesterday at the homily of the need that we have of having a clear picture of our identity and an honest appraisal of our value, of our self worth.
I spoke of the story that Victor Hugo shared in his epic "Les Miserables", made into a few movies over the years, an exceptional musical production, and now a new movie in musical form. It is the story of a man named Jean Valjean who lived in France in the years following the French Revolution and in a time of particular turmoil. Jean Valjean is a criminal serving a fifteen year sentence of hard labor and degradation, having stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving child. That degradation included the loss of his identity as a human being and the "gift" of a number as his identification. We meet him at the time of his parole, which does not spell freedom, but rather the continued slavery of being a nobody with no rights. In his struggle to reestablish himself into society the road blocks lead him to ask the question "Who am I?" Is he prisoner 24601 or is he Jean Valjean?
His desperation leads him to the hospitality of the local bishop, who shares the warmth of his home and the bread of his table. Jean Valjean, though, steals the silver service from the bishop's house, and when caught and presented before the bishop receives something that he does not expect - forgiveness, respect, freedom and worth. The bishop gifts him with these things, and the silver, and tells him that his soul has been purchased for God. His freedom comes with a price, though ... to change his life, to make a difference, to celebrate this second chance, his redemption. And thus Jean Valjean, despite ongoing fears and history and prejudices, starts anew.
Because of the effect of sin and our own personal sinfulness, we too have lost our identity and our self worth. We too are held by others in no esteem and with no respect. But we too have had our souls purchased for God, not with silver and kindness, but with the life of the Christ given in love beyond all measure. We have been given the insight to know the answer to the question "Who am I?" by realizing that we are children of God, beloved by him, our land no longer forsaken but now espoused. Our worth lies in our generous response to the awesome love of God. Like Jean Valjean we are invited to say YES to the offer of redemption, to embrace the gifts that he offers, and to move forward, being a wellspring of mercy and love. In his final moments in the musical, Jean Valjean sings about the truth that once was spoken and that transformed his life - "To love another person is to see the face of God!".
May we embrace the mercy and love so freely given, and become a source of that same mercy and love in our lives of service in Christ.