Les Misérables and the Ministry of Presence
Domestic Volunteer Anna didn’t expect to feel the spirit of St. Francis in a movie theater. And yet she couldn’t help but hear a familiar Franciscan message in the context of this pop-culture film.
Les Misérables, the movie that everyone seems to be talking about struck an unexpected chord when I finally viewed it a couple weeks ago. I was at the cinema watching it with some family, crying where it couldn’t be helped and laughing for much of the same reason. The singing was moving as was the bravery of some of the characters. I can see why people are talking about it. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you should! Perhaps you’ll make the same connection I did.
Disclaimer and Spoiler Alert: This post does give part of the plot away and you may not understand this post if you don’t know the story, but perhaps it will encourage you to reflect on the film/musical when you do watch it.
By the time Cosette (the daughter) was adopted by Valjean (former prisoner in hiding), I was already sighing at the kindness of that fated father. He had much to worry about with the ruthless and unrelenting authorities after him. Yet, he still did not turn away from the needs of his only family. This was true even when the close friend of his daughter’s, a stranger to him, was in danger and saved their life. This was true when he had the unforeseen opportunity to eradicate his enemy with a single shot and instead let him go unharmed.
I do not point out these events with the thought that no one else has noticed. The movie/musical’s main point is the kindness and compassion the father displays during those trying times. This is reiterated in the dialogue, the music, the songs, the movements… who could miss it? I point these out because I believe everything was summed up in the last few sung lines of the movie, and when I heard them I was filled with the spirit of St. Francis.
For myself, this phrase wraps up the definition of “the ministry of presence”. It took a change of heart, an epiphany, but when someone opens up their eyes to seeing the presence of God mirrored in the face of others, the heart opens up, as well. When you see God it is so much easier to build relationships, give, and love. Valjean embodied this, so did St. Francis, and we, even in the most trying times, are capable of it, too.
Anna Robinson joined our FMS staff and the communications team as a full-time volunteer last August. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2011 with a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Music Composition. This is her second year participating in a volunteer program.