In a play, the actors don’t speak to the audience they way they do to each other. To us, they say, “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and “It is the east; and Juliet is the damn-fool who is going to get me killed in the last act.” To each other they say, “You’re in my way,” and “Will you stop upstaging me?” and “Will you stop stepping on my lines?” and “Will you stop stepping on my toes?” and “Where did that come from?” As the audience, we don’t really want to know what goes on during rehearsals or backstage. And it’s the cast members’ job to leave those things backstage.
More than that, the actors have to engage us, to draw us in, to move us to laughter, or tears, or rage, and keep us in our seats until the final curtain.
It’s a similar thing with the Church. As Christians, we’re the actors, and the World is the audience. We’ve got the greatest story ever told, and we need to sell it to everyone beyond the footlights, from the groundlings on the floor to the jaded aesthetes and bored society ladies in the boxes. We need to engage them, and keep them calling for encores.
In recent weeks, Pope Francis has been raising eyebrows, hackles, smiles, and who knows what next with his informal, off-the-cuff remarks. I don’t know whether he’s crazy or crazy like a fox or somewhere in between, but he’s undeniably engaged the people in the audience. “But he’s not telling the whole story! But he left important bits out! People are going to get the wrong idea!”
This is true. He’s not, he did, and they have. His informal style is going to lead to real problems in some of our parishes. (And already has, from what I’ve heard.)
But it occurs to me: he’s talking to the audience, not to the actors. For the actors, nothing has changed; and I hope the Director will make that clear Real Soon Now. But also: it’s not the job of a single actor, even the lead, to bring the play to its complete resolution. That takes the work of the entire cast, not to mention the folks running the lights and the guy at the sound board. And that’s you and me. Each of us has our lines, and the audience is listening.
So get out there and break a leg!