William Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It, includes the famous line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” It’s part of a soliloquy dividing a human life into seven stages: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and old age—concluding with death. No afterlife in this Shakespearian world. It’s funny, though, that’s Shakespeare’s inspiration for this was a Catholic thinker named Erasmus, whose work, The Praise of Folly, written almost a century earlier, states: “For what else is the life of man but a kind of play in which men in various costumes perform until the director motions them off the stage.”
At least Erasmus credited a director as necessary to offering guidance to his performers—and the hope for another act. That director inspired a production that is still a major attraction around the world.
Since the 1500s, many versions of The Passion Play have been performed in every language, and in anywhere from three to 11 acts. All culminate with Christ’s resurrection. However, as the readings for this Divine Mercy Sunday indicate, you and I play key roles in the act following that one. This is where the Holy Spirit makes a key entrance—into our hearts, to help us inspire the other players in our own productions. Sunday’s first reading from Acts (Acts 2:42-47) demonstrates how it’s done:
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The beauty of our own Passion Play is that, although we don’t see our director, we feel his direction in our hearts. And while he challenges us to stretch—sometimes to the breaking point—somehow that pain opens the way for us to improve our performance. No follower of Jesus suffered for his art more than Peter—the one who failed three times to acknowledge his director before he finally understood his motivation—our salvation. He proves it in Sunday’s second reading (1 Pt 1:3-9):
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
But any good actor will tell you his worst enemy is doubt. One of Jesus’s other 12 original supporting players, Thomas, made a name for himself with that trait—thereby offering the rest of us the motivation to believe in that director we don’t see. His fellow players couldn’t move Thomas in that direction, so their director had to arrange a hands-on workshop (Jn 20:19-31):
Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
If you believe we are being directed in the role of our lifetime, then you know your every act is building to a climax that will lead to a resolution. Our faith tells us if we can make it through those tough scenes, the final act of our Passion Play will have no end.