Our kids are crazy for the Disney movie Moana right now. They sing the songs at the top of their lungs, quote the movie, and even pretend to be the different characters while they are playing with each other. And who can blame them? A funny chicken, catchy tunes, and a life-changing adventure make for a great story.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a young girl named Moana who lives on a Polynesian island. She is the daughter of the village chief and grew up hearing tales of how Maui, the shapeshifter demi-god, stole the heart of the mother island Te Fiti. He became stranded on an unknown island for a thousand years and the heart was lost at sea. As Moana grows into a young lady, her island’s resources are dying and she feels the water calling her to travel out to sea to find Maui and restore the heart of the mother island Te Fiti.
She wrestles with her calling and then finally, without knowing how to sail or where exactly she was going, she sets out on a journey to find Maui and restore the heart. This journey has its difficulties along the way, such as fighting fierce little coconut animals, journeying to the Realm of Monsters and sailing past a fire monster, but she presses on with the water to guide her.
All along the water is helping her, putting her back on the boat when she falls off, and giving her a final push at the end after being shipwrecked. I jokingly told my husband, “She didn’t even need a boat; the water could have taken her right there.” But of course, then there wouldn’t be a movie! Also, Moana wouldn’t have been the same person without her journey, and that is where we can reflect on the journey we each must make.
Water is the sacramental sign of our baptism, of the Holy Spirit, of new life. In a real sense then, the “water” calls to us to find our purpose in life and the vocation that God has called us to. The first song asks Moana to be content on the island where she is, but she can’t shake the calling to the water. In our own lives, we are all called to different ministries and missions, and God invites us to respond to that calling to take the adventure of a lifetime. It may not involve lava monsters and giant crabs, but we can do things we didn’t think we were capable of when we respond to God’s call. We can’t let fear get in the way, because it’s the journey that forms who we will be for eternity.
There is a striking scene on the boat one night when her companion Maui has left her and Moana has given up hope on restoring the heart because the obstacles were too hard. While on the boat, her deceased grandmother comes to her as a string ray. Now, Catholics don’t believe in reincarnation, but we do believe in the Communion of Saints and life in heaven, so the Saints can intercede and intervene in our lives. Her grandmother sings these words to her:
Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana, you've come so far
Do you know who you are?
The song culminates with Moana understanding her mission as she shouts: “I am Moana!” She knows who she is, she accepts her mission, she understands her purpose. From there, Moana is empowered to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way. Don’t we all want to come to that sort of moment of clarity and empowerment in our own lives? What if we all allowed the Spirit to speak into our difficult moments to help us see our journey, our mission, and our purpose? I believe we would be capable of great things and great evangelization, just like the Apostles at Pentecost were able to through the breath and fire of the Holy Spirit.
On her return home after saving her island, Moana is not the same girl that left. She is a wiser, braver woman who knows where she came from and now she can lead her people. It’s in the journey that we learn who we are, and we all are on a journey towards heaven. The journey will be hard and will leave its scars, but it is through our suffering that we become who we were meant to be. We look to the cross and see how our wounds can not only be healed but transformed and so our sufferings are necessary. Just like Moana did, we learn courage, virtue, friendship, and true love through our struggles. We are forming on this earth the person we will be for eternity, and so we can’t run away from difficulties! With the help of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, we can face the struggles and learn who we are through them.
Lastly, there is a lesson on genuine friendship between Maui and Moana. When Maui wanted to give up, Moana’s encouragement convinced him that the journey was worth taking. In the end, Maui was ready to sacrifice himself in order that Moana finish the task, and nothing says genuine love like laying your life down for a friend. We are all called to community and companionship: none of us are meant to make this journey alone. We see this in gathering as a Church, and we see this in family life and marriage. We help each other to be better by laying our lives down for one another. We take the journey together, and God calls us by name.