Sunday, November 27, 2011

at the gallows

Not long after he gives his mansion as a hospital for the sick the Bishop from Les Misérables feels himself called to attend to a criminal in his last moments before facing the death penalty.

He went instantly to the prison, descended to the cell of the “mountebank,” called him by name, took him by the hand, and spoke to him.  He passed the entire day with him, forgetful of food and sleep, praying to God for the soul of the condemned man, and praying the condemned man for his own.  He told him the best truths, which are also the most simple.  He was father, brother, friend; he was bishop only to bless [not to judge or condemn].  The man was on the point of dying in despair.  Death was an abyss to him.  As he stood trembling on its mournful brink, he recoiled with horror. . . . He gazed incessantly…and beheld only darkness.  The Bishop made him see light.

On the following day, when they came to fetch the unhappy wretch, the Bishop was still there…

He mounted the scaffold with him.  The sufferer, who had been so gloomy and cast down on the preceding day, was radiant.  He felt that his soul was reconciled, and he hoped in God.  The Bishop embraced him…

Here is love.  Simple.  Elegant.  Powerful.  Changing a life at its most desperate hour, on the  brink of death and the unknown.  Never should we condemn the work of simple folk who sit all night with those bound for death, or walk with them into their punishment, or pray with them at the uttermost end.  For such is the work of love. 

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