Happily Even After
Red Carpet Marriage
Stacey and I enjoy watching the Oscars each year. She is interested in the dresses, of course, but more than that, we both are cinemaphiles. Watching movies together is the biggest pastime that we share.
Stacey and I enjoy movies for different reasons. I love a good chase scene, especially in cars through narrow European streets, as in Ronin. She gets absorbed in romantic stories and somehow seems partial to certain movies that include some singing element, like Pitch Perfect. It is a rare movie that captures the imagination of both of us, and rarer still is the movie that we talk about days later, whose storyline allows us to discover relevant insights.
We both found Les Miserables to be such a movie this year. I was pleased to see that a film like Les Miserables, which owes its positivist view of humanity to Christian inspiration, has done so well. I get depressed when I consider our culture’s apparent appetite for movies like Saw or the Fastest and Furiousest.
For example, the story says a lot about divine love. Jean Valjean is a convict just paroled from 19 years in prison. He is taken in by a bishop, who feeds and shelters him, but Valjean steals the bishop’s silverware in the night. He is immediately caught by constables and returned to the bishop’s house to return what he took before being sent back to prison. The bishop demands that he be released, claiming that he gave Valjean the silver he took. What is more, he says Valjean forgot the best part—his silver candlesticks.
This act of love cracks open Valjean’s hardened heart and he becomes a new man. The plotline of the movie is essentially the story of how Valjean goes on to share that love with other people who also face desperation.
Isn’t this a great articulation of love? It is utterly unwarranted and undeserved. Valjean stole from the bishop, like a greedy coward. One word from him to the constables, Valjean knows, and he’d be “back beneath the lash, upon the rack.” Instead, the bishop not only forgives Valjean, but gives him all he took and more.
This is divine love—unconditional, unwarranted, undeserved. This Sunday’s Gospel reading will tell the story of the prodigal son, and this is the kind of love the father displays for the son who squandered his inheritance. This is the divine love that Jesus proclaimed as good news to us.
Valjean is invited to participate in this love, which he does by devoting his life to God by serving others, especially the poor and sick. It is a great demonstration of how love changes us. Love invites us to take on its mission of self-gift: it is something that only grows the more we give it away.
I have found this to be utterly true in marriage and family life. I fell in love with Stacey 18 years ago, and have been graced by her love all of these years, which has been a glimpse into God’s love for me. Even despite my selfishness and small-mindedness, she continues to love me. I don’t deserve it, certainly, so the only thing I can do is thank God for it and offer her the same kind of love in return.
Looking back over 15 years of marriage, I can see that this love—both the receiving and the giving of it—has changed me. Without a doubt, I’ve grown closer to the image of God that we all bear.
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