- Faith and Worship
- How Do I...
A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: February 5, 2022
By Edward C. Dodge
Catholic High School for Boys
One of my favorite texts to revisit each year with my students is the medieval morality play “Everyman,” and each year, it seems I learn something new from it. This year, I noticed a particular theme of responsibility, and it made me think about Christianity as a vehicle for the common good and my role in that community.
“Everyman” is an allegorical play in which God, seeing that Everyman drifts further from him with each passing day, sends Death to bring Everyman to judgment. Death, naturally, catches Everyman off-guard, and he begs Death for a reprieve. However, the only allowance Death grants is for Everyman to find someone who will go with him to God and speak for him. Everyman learns to his sorrow that he has wasted his life looking for eternal hope in temporal things, such as Friendship, Goods (money) and Beauty, and that “all things faileth save God alone.”
The only earthly friend who will go with him to judgment is his Good Deeds, whom Everyman must first free from the burden of his own sins before she can help him. At the beginning of the play, right before Death leaves Everyman in his effort to find a true friend, Death asks him, “Did you think your life belonged to you?” Of course, Everyman does. “No, Everyman. It was but lent you.” The play establishes this idea of being-for during Death’s first monologue: Death tells us that he will send those who love riches to hell — unless they live charitably. Later, Everyman’s Goods (herself described as tied up and weighed down) asks a similar question: “Did you think I (Goods) belonged to you? I was but lent you.”
The Bible does not perceive judgment as a scale; good deeds alone cannot save us, as indicated by Everyman’s need to repent to cure Good Deeds from her illness. But the implication is that when God lends us something, he expects us to use it for others’ benefit.
Perhaps, like me, you have found yourself thinking of the Parable of the Talents: a master prepares to travel and leaves a number of talents (about a year’s wage each) with three servants. Upon his return, the first two servants each explain how they invested the talents and increased the master’s wealth, to which the master responds, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” raising them into higher positions and welcoming them into his joy in gratitude. However, the third servant buried his talent, and for wasting this opportunity, the master punished him.
The Bible does not perceive judgment as a scale; good deeds alone cannot save us, as indicated by Everyman’s need to repent to cure Good Deeds from her illness. But the implication is that when God lends us something, he expects us to use it for others’ benefit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that we ought not “live entirely isolated … as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together.” (Catechism, no. 1905)
Our Christian call to human solidarity and being-for obliges us to use our talents within and for society. If we understand our vocation to be in communion with God in this life and the next, then we cannot escape the human community: “Society is essential to the fulfillment of the human vocation,” says the Catechism, and “love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God.” (Catechism, nos. 1878, 1880, 1886) My son’s confirmation sponsor recently told me how much he admired his wife’s faith: her daily prayers, her Scripture reading and her time before the Blessed Sacrament.
He laughed and said she was a much better Christian than he was. But he is a full-time volunteer for our parish’s outreach ministry, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and dignifying the downtrodden. I’d say he’s also using the life God loaned him; he is every bit a good and faithful servant.
Edward C. Dodge teaches English and religion at Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock. He holds a master’s degree in Catholic studies from Christian Brothers University.