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38/444 Healing from Infidelity: Ann's Grace
40/444 Healing from Infidelity: Annie Dillard on Mystery and Beauty

39/444 Healing from Infidelity: A favorite scene of grace, Les Miserables

In the book, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Jean Valjean has spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and a couple of escape attempts.  Upon his release he is treated poorly as others see his yellow passport indicating he is a convict.  He comes to stay with a bishop and two women who also serve in the abbey. 

The bishop treated him with respect, not like a dog as others had.  He called him monsieur.

Monsieur to a convict, is a glass of water to a man dying of thirst at sea. Ignominy thirsts for respect...

The bishop said to the man, "You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome. And do not thank me; do not tell me that I take you into my house. This is the home of no man, except him who needs an asylum. I tell you, who are traveler, that you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it."..."Your name is my brother."

During dinner the good silver was used. Jean Valjean took note.  During the night he grabbed the basket of silver and leaped the wall around the abbey.  

Later the next morning Madame Magloire was upset the silver had been stolen. 

The bishop said, "Now first, did the silver belong to us?" He continued, "Madame Magliore, I have for a long time wrongfully withheld this silver; it belonged to the poor. Who was this man? A poor man evidently."

A while later there was a knock on the door. Three gendarmes held Jean Valjean.

"Ah, there you are! said the bishop looking towards Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. But! I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them along with your plates?"

Jean Valjean opened his eyes and looked at the venerable bishop with an expression of which no human tongue could describe.

"Monseigneur," said the brigadier, "then what this man said was true? We met him. He seemed to be running away, and we arrested him in order to see. He had this silver."

"And he told you," interrupted the bishop, with a smile, "that it had been given him by a good old priest with whom he had passed the night. I see it all. And you brought him back here? It is all a mistake."

"If that is so," said the brigadier, "we can let him go."

"Certainly," replied the bishop.

The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who shrank back--

"Is it true that they let me go?" he said in a voice almost inarticulate, as if he were speaking in his sleep.

"Yes! You can go. Do you not understand?" said a gendarme.

"My friend," said the bishop, "before you go away, here are your candlesticks, take them."

He went to the mantelpiece, took the two candlesticks, and brought them to Jean Valjean. The two women beheld the action without a word, or gesture or look, that might disturb the bishop.

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a wild appearance.

"Now," said the bishop, "go in peace. By the way, my friend, when you come again, you need not come through the garden. You can always come in and go out by the front door. It is closed only with a latch, day or night."

Then turning to the gendarmes, he said:

"Messieurs, you can retire." The gendarmes withdrew.

Jean Valjean felt like a man who is just about to faint.

The bishop approached him, and said, in a low voice:

"Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man."

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued solemnly:

"Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I am withdrawing it from dark thoughts and the spirit of perdition (eternal damnation), and I am giving it to God!"

The bishop knew everything really belongs to God.  In an extraordinary act of pardon and blessing, he saw beyond the outward man to the inward man of who Jean Valjean really was as made in the image of God. 

We all need that pardon and blessing.