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‘Les Mis’ a cause for optimism in face of advancing secularism

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Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway star in a scene from "Les Miserables," the big-screen adaptation of the long-running stage show. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- pare nts strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal Studios)

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway star in a scene from “Les Miserables,” the big-screen adaptation of the long-running stage show. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — pare nts strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Universal Studios)

Let’s face it: we’re living in a post-Christian America. And yet, there is reason to hope.

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Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “A Martyr’s Crown.”

In an era in which movies with overtly religious themes are generally dismissed as “cheesy,” Hollywood’s latest rendition of “Les Miserables” has garnered critical acclaim.

I wasn’t the only one with tears running down my cheeks the night my husband and I sat through the epic musical in a packed theater. You could see people dabbing at their eyes and overhear the sniffling all around. To watch a movie star pray before a crucifix, to witness a Catholic bishop portrayed as a man of great compassion — I almost couldn’t believe it was happening.

Amazingly, the filmmakers did not try to diminish or redefine this timeless tale of mercy and redemption, sacrifice and suffering. The ideals of the Catholic faith have been broadly condemned by so many in the media and culture at large in recent decades, and yet there on the big screen, those ideals were being demonstrated in all their beauty.

Becky Greene, a local Catholic who was once a committed atheist, went to see “Les Mis” thinking that perhaps praise was being heaped on a version of the Victor Hugo story that had been modified to fit a secular agenda. She, too, came away with a sense of hope.

“It’s not that I think Hollywood has suddenly been injected with the God gene, but I found it encouraging that it’s being embraced,” Greene said. “There seems to be that deep down understanding that there is something greater than us and there is a bond that connects all of us together, that every human person does have a special dignity given to them by God.”

Respect for life

Last month, people all around the globe were horrified by the massacre of 20 kindergarteners and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Many shed tears as they watched news coverage of the incident.

I couldn’t. Instead, I felt anger rising up in me.

We’ve been alternately poisoned and desensitized by a steady diet of more and more violent entertainment. We’ve had 40 years of abortion, killing more than 50 million of our own children. We have tens of millions of broken families, and a growing segment of the population that claims no religious affiliation whatsoever. It’s a recipe for disaster. Can we really be surprised by Newtown’s tragedy? We’ve got an epidemic of mental illness on our hands, yet there is still such shame in seeking help. Why is that? Our communities are struggling and we need God now more than ever before. Foolishly — indeed, dangerously — the secularists advance in their quest to eliminate any reference to Him in public.

The culture-shapers in our midst are grasping for solutions to the crisis in which we find ourselves, but few of them are turning to God for help. Sadly, instead of calling on the name of Jesus Christ for help, His holy Name is often used instead to curse.

Take a look at many health or women’s publications and you’ll find article after article promising to help us transform our lives. The one my gym sends out each month is a wonderfully organized magazine but there’s something eerily disturbing about its complete lack of recourse to traditional religion. Yoga, diet, a new way of thinking — this is what is supposed to save us.

God must laugh at such misguided attempts to rescue His miserable servants. We’re His kids, after all, and we need Him desperately, as “Les Mis” so beautifully illustrates.

A hardened convict like Jan Valjean who meets with the mercy of God and is radically transformed by grace — now that’s a message that can help shape our culture toward a greater respect for every human life.

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