I watched Chocolat on TV the other day. I’m not that keen on chocolate—I like salty things more, always have—but I liked the film. Profoundly spiritual, you might say it’s a story of redemption by chocolate. In case you don’t know, the story goes something like this. A freethinking woman arrives in a repressed French town and sets up a chocolate shop. A woman without a man, a woman from outside the community—that’s already enough to scandalise the locals, most of whom are of the ‘my family have lived in this village since 1568’ mindset. (Sound familiar?). She has—horror of horrors—an illegitimate daughter who is bright and cheerful. Can it get any worse? Yes it can, and it does: worst of all is that she is passionate and enjoys life. Some people just don’t like others having a good time. It comes as a big shock to the ladies in the film who enjoy ill health. It threatens the mayor’s power who does his best to ruin things for the newcomers, and who terrorises the parish priest into saying only what the Mayor approves. The newcomer uses her chocolaterie skills to make friends. She becomes a confidante. Over the delights of chocolate, people start talking to her and each other about their dreams and fears, joys and sorrows. Repression lifts, new life dawns. There’s a great moment near the end when the Mayor himself falls victim to his sensual humanity by pigging out on chocolate, falling asleep in the chocolate shop window. It’s reminiscent of the downfall of the odious killjoy Mr Bulstrode in Middlemarch, and quite as satisfying. Perhaps the best bit of the film is when the camera cuts from a scene in which the consecrated wafer at Mass is placed on the communicant’s tongue to the next scene when a chocolate delicacy is placed on the salivating tongue of a customer. That says it all, really.
The story is about liberation from small-mindedness, from ties that bind. It’s about allowing ourselves to be led into a place of wide vision where we take delight and create delight for others. This is Hebrew salvation: salve, save, salaam, shalom (the words are all related), wholeness, security, peace. Chocolate liberates the gutsy love of life in that French community, and this is what the Christian Gospel is all about. It’s what the consecrated wafer at Mass can do for us—if we let it, or maybe I should say if we stop preventing it. Why is it that so many people think the Christian message is all and only about ‘that shalt not’? This is a terrible reflection on churchgoers, some of whom in the past, and maybe in the present, do nothing but finger-wag and criticise others. I apologise for them. I pity them. I’ve said it before, and I say it again, paraphrasing early Churchmen, God became human so that humans might become divine. The glory of God is a human life lived to the full. Dumitru Staniloae, a 20th century Romanian theologian, writes: ‘the glory to which man is called is that he should grow more godlike by growing ever more human.’ And again, ‘Love for God, or more strictly, thought taken for God, represents a continuous contribution toward more and more authentic relations among humans.’ These authentic relations come from talking to one another about our dreams, our fears, our joys, our sorrows. In the words of the priest in Chocolat: ‘we can’t go around … measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create … and who we include.’ Yes, yes, yes! As we prepare for Well dressings and carnivals and fairs and summer holidays, it’s good to remember that Our Lord came so that we might have life, and have it in abundance. Enjoy what the Divine Lord provides for you, and help others to do likewise. Sin is life unlived. What is your chocolat?