“For just as on the stage actors enter with the masks of kings, generals, doctors, teachers, professors, and soldiers, without themselves being anything of the sort, so in the present life poverty and wealth are only masks” (St. John Chrysostom’s second homily on the rich man and Lazarus).
I have been rereading St. John’s homilies contained in the little volume by St. Vladimir’s Seminary called “On Wealth and Poverty.” One of the things that has struck me in his homilies is his likening of death to an actor’s coming off the stage. In death all of our masks are removed and we must confront who we “really” are in the face of who Jesus Christ is.
In a sense, masks are a necessary part of our lives in this world. We all must serve in different relationships that require that we fulfill certain roles. I am a priest, but to my wife I am a husband. I do not hear my wife’s confessions. This is not a problem. Boundaries and limits are a necessary part of all relationships. I am on the Conciliar Press editorial board, and as a board member I must evaluate works submitted for publication and recommend them or not for publication. I hate this. I don’t want to judge someone else’s labor. And yet such judging as Christ recommends against is nonetheless required if any books are going to be published at all. If children are going to be taught, if doctors are going to be trained, criminals are going to be corrected, someone has to wear the mask of teacher, doctor and judge.
That we wear masks is not our problem. Our problem, I think, is that we sometimes mistake our masks for our selves. We hide behind our masks rather than express ourselves through them. Yes, express ourselves, our true selves, through a mask.
Jesus said that from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Our bodies themselves are a kind of mask, and it is through what we do (and say) with our bodies that our true hearts are revealed. Similarly, what I do and say as a priest, husband, teacher and friend can reveal who I really am. The tricky thing is to stay aware of the self who speaks through the mask, and not to think the mask is anything real, anything enduring. The masks come and go as life ebbs and flows. Who I am in Christ endures forever.
Paying attention to Christ in my heart at all times helps keep me from being deceived by whatever mask I may temporarily be wearing.