Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday are just passed. In my tradition it is now Lent; this is not the time for remembering the disadvantaged (for the good woman or the good man, that time is every moment), but for remembering to remember the disadvantaged. The world today is cruel with horrors; the world has always been. In the spirit of Lent, I offer a brief passage excerpted from Les Miserables, a novel in the structure of a folktale. It is a speech by a bishop, which I admire for its directness, its poetry, its lack of sentimentality, its brevity, and its honesty, and its message speaks to us whatever faith we are of and whether we are observing Lent, or not. And though the subject of the speech is France of the early nineteenth century, there are many parts of the world to which this same subject now applies: Rwanda, where there are few wells; Nepal, where there are few orphanages; Haiti, where there are few homes that consist of more than a blanket; and the inner cities of half a hundred municipalities in our own nation. And there are places in the world that have little time or hope left for the experience of wonder, or where the folktales and hero myths that sustain a people are being forgotten along with the languages they have been told in.
The translation is by Norman Denny.
My brothers and friends, there are in France thirteen hundred and twenty thousand peasant cottages which have only three outlets, eighteen hundred and seventeen thousand which have only two, a door and one window, and three hundred and forty-six thousand which have only a door. This is due to something known as the tax on doors and windows. Consider the fate of poor families, old women and young children, living in those hovels, the fevers and other maladies! God gives air to mankind and the law sells it. I do not assail the law but I give thanks to God. In Isere, in Var, and in the upper and lower Alps the peasants do not even possess barrows but carry the dung on their backs. They have no candles but burn twigs and lengths of rope steeped in resin. That is what happens throughout the highlands of Dauphine. They make bread every six months, baking it over a fire of dried dung. In winter they break the loaves with a hatchet and soak the bread for twenty-four hours before it can be eaten. My brothers, be merciful. Consider the sufferings of those around you.