[bishop myriel – compassion and wisdom]
In the very beginning of the Les Miserables, Victor Hugo introduces a character whose role was quite short yet the rest of Jean Valjean’s story is impacted by those few hours with this person – Bishop Myriel.
He was also known as Monseigneur Bienvenu (Bienvenu is “Welcome” in French) because he was welcome everywhere – he was the kind of person you would want to be around all the time – gentle, kind, compassionate, and incredibly wise. He lived a quiet humble life in Digne, a small town in France. However, his name was known because he would travel and visit with the people from his parish and help those in need.
One fateful night, he heard a knock on the door. When he opened the door, he saw a man in rags, dirty and scary looking – the man was Jean Valjean. As Jean tells the Bishop his story (right away without waiting), he mentions that no one wanted to let him in to warm up from the bitter cold, even the dog bit him when he tried to sleep in a doghouse.
What does Bishop Myriel do?
“Madame Magloire,” said the Bishop, “you will set another place.”
Just like that, without any reservations. Yet that wasn’t the best part.
Bishop’s only expensive possessions were two silver candlesticks and a set of table silverware. Jean Valjean woke up at two in the morning (because the bed was too good) and simply lied in the bed, his thoughts a muddy and perturbed pool. Among the thoughts, one pestered him: the silver. On impulse, he got up, stuffed the silverware into his backpack, and passing by the room where the Bishop slept and observing the confidence and peace of the sleeping man, Jean Valjean fled into the night.
Only to be caught in the morning. Three gendarmes brought Jean and presented him to the Bishop.
“Ah! here you are!” he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”
Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.
Chapter XII. The Bishop works
Jean Valjean was freed, yet in the state of shock. No one in 44 years of his life has shown this kind of mercy to him. He expected punishment; he expected more time in prison; he expected at least an angry man. All he got was compassion and mercy.
Then, drawing closer to the ex-convict, the Bishop said, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
Chapter XII. The Bishop works
That was the beginning of the new life for Jean Valjean. It amazes me that Bishop has not even done anything special – he simply was obedient to God, humble, and knew the value of compassion. It is also encouraging because I know that I am capable of those things too – only I need to learn them.
May God bless you and give you strength to do His will and enjoy every single day He provides.