By JOEY MARTINECK, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 8, 2019
“Cause what if everyone saw?
What if everyone knew?
Would they like what they saw?
Or would they hate it too?”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Fox Theater as these lyrics were belted to the sold-out crowd of the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” this past April. In short, it tells the story of Evan, a teen with severe social anxiety. A misguided lie turns into a web of deceit, launching Evan into popularity and acceptance he never dreamed of—until everything comes crashing down.
Why did so many come to see this play? Was it just for a night of entertainment or something more?
Authentic art captivates us. It has the power to expose the inner workings of the human heart, making them “become flesh” for us, so to speak. While sacred art certainly has an important place for us Catholics, sometimes we mistakenly cast all other art into suspicion. In his Letter to Artists, St. John Paul II teaches that “even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience.”
Some might be scandalized that I’m talking positively in the Catholic newspaper about a play like “Dear Evan Hansen.” But if art is an honest reflection of the human heart, then should we be surprised to see both brokenness and beauty, weeds and wheat? Jesus warns us about the danger of trying to pull out the weeds before the harvest (Mt 13:29). In this sense, weeds and wheat must grow together. St. John Paul II goes on to say that “even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”
So what is the redemption to which “Dear Even Hansen” points us?
After Evan goes through exhausting lengths to maintain a false persona, the raw truth about himself eventually comes out. He’s forced to finally look at it and stop pretending.
Like Evan, for much of my life, I worked hard to create a persona that was lovable. Underneath a long list of accomplishments, accolades and even pious practices, I operated out of the belief that the raw Joey wasn’t good enough.
Is it possible that Evan’s cry resonates with us because it touches upon the kind of love we were made for? In the beginning, Adam and Eve saw deeply into each other and experienced reciprocal acceptance. Instead of being an impetus for mockery or manipulation, their bodies revealed the full depth of their personal dignity. They were completely naked and felt no shame among themselves or before God (Gn 2:25).
Do people know the real you? And if they did, would they like what they saw?
Though sin did violence to that original communion in the garden, we have new hope in Christ. St. Paul is convinced that our deepest desires to be seen and known find fulfilment in “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23), the fruit of our baptism. It’s not enough to say this redemption will just be realized in heaven. Through the power of the cross, we can both receive and live out now the authentic love we were created for as sons and daughters of God.
God has never not seen the real you. You can’t fool him. It’s the real me and the real you that Jesus died for, not any false persona we manufacture. When God convicts us of sin, he does so on the foundation of completely loving us already (not withholding his love until we are perfect). Redemption is still necessary. But redemption really only starts to take effect in us when we have been clobbered by the free mercy of God, loving us in our rawness and weakness “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8).
Joey Martineck is the director of Respect Life for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.