Bishop Myriel

Last night Carolina and I watched the first episode of the recent Masterpiece Theater production of Les Miserables. I got to see again one of my literary heroes: Bishop Myriel.

If there is a fictional character that I would like to imitate, it would be this man. Not in his Catholic faith, for I have no love for that teaching. But I admire his Christian faith, his belief in the power of redeeming love, his courage to live out his beliefs.

If you don’t remember the story, the bishop was a man who worked among the hurting, opening himself to them with great vulnerability. When the main character, Jean Valjean, arrives at the bishop’s home, the cleric takes the ex-convict in. He shows him an incredible level of trust. When Valjean responds by stealing from the bishop, Myriel saves Valjean by protecting him from the police. Instead of having Valjean arrested for stealing silverware, Myriel convinces the police that the stolen goods were a gift and that Valjean should also take some rather expensive candlesticks.

When the police leave, the bishop tells Valjean that he has been purchased with those candlesticks, that he no longer belongs to evil, but to God. The rest of the book details Valjean’s transformation based on that act of kindness.

I’m too frightened. I’m too in love with my possessions. I’m not able to place myself at risk when dealing with others. I’m not willing to lose what I have.

I’d like to be more like Bishop Myriel.

I know no greater hero in all of fiction. If all Christians could live with such vulnerability and such loss of power, the gospel of Christ would sweep across this world.

Illustration by Gustave Brion

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