"As we have seen, prayer, celebration of the religious offices, alms, consoling the afflicted, the cultivation of a little piece of ground, fraternity, frugality, self-sacrifice, confidence, study, and work, filled up each day of his life. Filled up is exactly the word; and in fact, the Bishop's day was full to the brim with good thoughts, good words, and good actions..."
This week I decided to give myself a literary challenge - possibly the biggest one I've ever taken: to read the unabridged classic by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. I'm currently 140 pages into this 1200-page epic, and I think that, other than the Bible, this may be the richest, most powerful, most challenging, most convicting story I've read. And I think the dearly beloved Bishop, known to his people as "Monseigneur Bienvenu," is my favorite fictional character ever developed.
The quote above is about him, and is supported by a dozen stories of his acts of kindness and compassion and humility. In a few qualities I relate to him and feel a kindredness with him, and in every other quality he possesses I long to be more like him. He has a very real understanding of the weight of eternity, the ministry of reconciliation, the power of forgiveness, the call to serve the poor and defend the weak, the brevity of life - how to purely and completely store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. These were not forced habits propelled by obligation or guilt - they just naturally flowed from him, without hesitation or anxiety. He expressed the love of Christ as often as he breathed. And though he is only a fictional character, I find myself wanting to live the kind of life he did. Here is another passage that I think explains a little about how such an incredible life is possible:
"He was there alone with himself, collected, tranquil, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the skies, moved in the darkness by the visible splendours of the constellations, and the invisible splendour of God, opening his soul to the thoughts which fall from the Unknown. In such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the flowers of night inhale their perfume, lighted like a lamp in the centre of the starry night, expanding his soul in ecstacy in the midst of the universal radiance of creation, he could not himself perhaps have told what was passing in his own mind; he felt something depart from him, and something descend upon him; mysterious interchanges of the depths of the soul with the depths of the universe..."
He spent time every day in communion with God - in deep, intimate relationship, listening to Him and receiving from Him streams of living water. Throughout the day, his hands and feet were busy serving others, loving and giving everything that was in him. And I think he was able to live in such reckless abandon and selfless sacrifice because his spirit rested and abided in the Lord, allowing him to refresh, restore, renew his measure of strength, grace, goodness, and love. It's as though the fruit of the Spirit was so abundant in his life that he kept giving and giving it, without fear of running out, because it was constantly being reproduced in him... much like the widow's oil in I Kings 17.
It reminds me of a conviction that the Lord has been developing in me lately, from Isaiah 58. Whatever we pour out for the sake of the gospel of Christ, He will renew it in us and overflow us - we will not run dry:
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
I know that Monseigneur Bienvenu understood this, because he didn't just study it, analyze it, preach about it, write a book about it, teach a class on it; he lived it out daily. And I want to live it out too.
"He would sit upon a wooden bench leaning against a broken trellis and look at the stars through the irregular outlines of his fruit trees. This quarter of an acre of ground, so poorly cultivated, so cumbered with shed and ruins, was dear to him and satisfied him. What was more needed by this old man who divided the leisure hours of his life, where he had so little leisure, between gardening in the day time and contemplation at night? ... what more can be desired? A little garden to walk, and immensity to reflect upon. At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate upon; a few flowers on the earth, and all the stars in the sky."