“Who am I”….. the classic statement in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables where Jean Valjean confesses his identity, at great cost, to save an innocent man. It’s a powerful moment in the story where the “rubber meets the road” about his true identity. Who am I ?
By ourselves we can know a lot about ourselves, but it’s often incomplete and can even be distorted. Sometimes I can think better of myself than is true, while other times I can feel worse about who I am. St. Pope John Paul II said that we need others to really know ourselves.
Today I was in a men’s sharing group with some excellent men. Three men were sitting together … all three had lost their wives over the years. It was quite a picture. You could see suffering in their countenance, yet you could see maturity, deep joy and holiness …. the kind of holiness that only comes from being in the battle for many years.
If you asked each of them how they’re doing with the Lord… are they growing in holiness… are they pleasing to the Lord…. , I think they would be tentative with a focus on areas where they need to improve, where they can do better…”gee, I don’t know”. Yet when others who know them well would answer that question, you would hear, “these are great men… holy men… still fighting the good fight of faith… still loving their family and friends, not giving up…”. I’m proud of these men.
We really need one another to get a true handle on how we’re doing. I have another good friend who is fighting fierce cancer. In the midst of his suffering, he doesn’t always get an accurate picture of how he’s doing… he can think he is making a mess of his relationship with the Lord….. that the temptations he experiences show that he’s doing poorly. He thinks he’s a disappointment to God. But if you ask me, I think he’s fighting a desperate spiritual battle like the saints of old have done. I read about Padre Pio and the temptations he faced and think of my friend. Left to himself he is trapped in discouragement. He needs others to help him land in the truth. We need each other to know who we are. Jesus tells us that Satan is the father of lies. “When he (Satan) lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) Left to ourselves we can end up having a conversation with Satan…. not good.
So, it’s important to not get isolated. We need brothers and sisters who will tell us the truth and support us in our trials…. who will help us know who we are and how we’re really doing…. where we’re doing well and where we need to change. And we need to be there for others and speak the truth of God’s mercy and love to them.
If you’ve seen Les Miserables, you know that Jean Valjean speaks the truth about who he is and faces the consequences….. and in the end, it works out. And for us, as we live in the truth of who we are, all will be well with our soul.
“The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” (CCC 1818)