A number of years ago I was at a talk given by Catholic author and papal biographer George Weigel, and he was speaking on “The Soul of Pope John Paul II.” He expressed what he considered to be different aspects of the pope’s personal and spiritual life: for instance, he said that the Holy Father had a Polish soul, nurtured in his beloved homeland of Poland; he had priestly soul, formed over his long and fruitful ministry as a priest of Jesus Christ.
At one point he went on to describe how John Paul II also had “a dramatic soul.” Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II), as a young man growing up in Poland, had been an actor. He enjoyed writing and acting in plays, even continuing that activity clandestinely during the German occupation at the outset of World War II.
In saying that Pope John Paul II had a “dramatic soul”, Weigel was simply expressing how that sense of drama never really left him. He understood himself as a part of the greater drama of life, a play which God had written and in which he had been given a significant role to play.
Now this is not an entirely new way of looking at ourselves and our relationship with God. The great Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, in one of his works called the Theo-drama, explores what can best be described as the drama of life and the story of salvation. In that drama, he says, God is the Author, Director, and Actor on the world stage, but we are also actors who share that stage with Him.
The point of life, essentially, is to live fully the role that God has given us. Our freedom must work together with God’s freedom in order to follow His divine script. When our lives and our freedom are cooperating with His, we fulfill that authentic role. When they do not—when we abuse our freedom and cease to follow the divine will, when we sin—we lose sight of the true meaning of life and God’s plan for us in it.
In this drama, of course, it is Christ Himself who is the model of what it means to truly live out one’s role in this world. He is the one who always follows the divine script and freely loves both God and those around Him to the fullest possible extent.
The whole concept of the Theo-drama is a fascinating one, but it really only “works,” it only makes sense when we are able to understand that, first of all, there is a story that God has written and is writing; and, second of all, that we have a place in that story. That should sound rather obvious, but unfortunately it is not.
You may have heard the term “post-modernity” before; it’s been used to describe the culture we live in as seen through the art, literature, philosophy, and various components that make up that culture. One of the characteristics of our post-modern world is that we seem to have lost this sense of being a part of the greater story God has written. Think about the latest books, movies or TV shows; they nearly all present a very different picture of humanity than the one we find in the Theo-drama. In “post-modernity,” our lives become just a bunch of little stories that float around on their own. We are not connected to God or to each other.
The disciples in the Gospel we heard this morning, oddly enough, experience a situation very much like that. For three long years they had given their lives to Christ and followed Him. In that time they had seen amazing things: they watched Him preach the Gospel to thousands; they watched Him heal the sick, and raise the dead. And then, tragically, they watched Him suffer and die on the cross.
Now they find themselves gathered together in a locked room, fearful of the Jewish leaders and fearful of their own people. They have become separated from Christ and cut off from their own religious tradition . . . or so they thought.
Suddenly Christ appears to them and reveals the resurrection; they have not been separated from Him at all! And then He goes on to do the one necessary thing that remains: He reconnects them once again to their own faith tradition.
Jesus says to them:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
It’s the second time Christ does this in the same chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. It was that important to Christ, and that important to the early Church, that He should open their minds and hearts to understand the story of their own salvation.
He would have brought them back to the Book of Exodus, and to the lamb that the people were commanded to sacrifice as a sign of their salvation from slavery and death in Egypt; and Christ would have told the disciples: “I am that Lamb.”
He would have taken them through the great stories of the prophets, who constantly called the people of Israel to return to God, the One who called Himself their faithful and loving husband. And Jesus would have said to the disciples: “I am that faithful husband.”
And He would have opened up the Book of Psalms for them, and let them listen to the voice of King David saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” And Christ would have said to them, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
Jesus opened their minds and hearts to the great drama of salvation, the one that they had apparently forgotten or maybe never fully understood. He helped them to see that they were not alone, not isolated and cut off from God’s plan or God’s people. They were a part of a much bigger picture, a much greater drama, written by God Himself.
This morning, here in this Church, Christ reminds us that we too have a role to play in that same drama. We, too, are a part of God’s plan of salvation. Our stories, our lives, are not isolated and disconnected. We belong to a much bigger picture and a much greater plan, and in that plan we must discover who we are and fulfill that role in the world we live in.
Today we ask God to open our minds to understand the scriptures, and our eyes to recognize Him as we gather here to celebrate this Eucharist. Like those first disciples, might we see and touch and hear Christ who speaks to us in the scriptures and gives Himself to us—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Eucharist.
And leaving this Church this morning, may we come to understand that the curtain has been raised and the drama of our salvation is not yet finished. Might we be faithful in accomplishing the work that God has given each of us to do, and truly live to the fullest extent that Theo-drama, the role God has prepared for each of us as people of faith and followers of Christ.