At one time or other in everyone’s life we all ask ourselves about our ultimate purpose in life. Why did God place me on this earth? What does God want me to do with my life? How can I contribute to the betterment of humanity and be fulfilled as a person? Are my eyes and ears open to discerning God’s presence in my life and world around me?
I never expected to see these questions (although not quite so directly) addressed in a Disney animated film but “Moana” touches on these questions in a wonderful story about a girl called to be the savior of her people.
Moana’s (voiced by Auli’I Cravahlo) people live on the fictional island of Motunui, somewhere in Polynesia. Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), Moana’s father, strives to teach her the things she’ll need to know to lead but she keeps running toward the ocean, a constant tug in her heart. The Chief, however, tells her in no uncertain terms that no one is allowed to go out into the open ocean beyond the island’s reef. It’s too dangerous, yet Moana is constantly drawn to the ocean. Gramma Tala (Rachel House), the Chief’s mom, encourages Moana’s love of the ocean much to her father’s chagrin.
Gramma Tala tells of a legend that says the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), stole the heart of the Te Fiti, the mother island. That’s why Motunui has stopped yielding crops and there are no more fish in the lagoon. The heart is a precious stone that needs to get back to Te Fiti. Encouraged by her grandmother who tells her the ocean has chosen her, Moana sets out to find Maui and get him to restore Te Fiti’s heart.
Still from "Moana" (Disney Pictures)
Moana convinces Maui that she has been chosen by the ocean to help him restore the heart. After a setback in their mission, Maui gives up and leaves Moana and she begins to doubt her calling. She tells the ocean to take back the heart and find someone else to restore it.
Moana’s calling by the ocean and her journey of responding to that call throughout the film, echoes the famous “calls” we see in the Scriptures: Moses, Gideon, Jonah, Mary and others. God calls them but they do not see themselves worthy of being called. Encouraged by God, they respond to the call, sometimes reluctantly, and fulfill the mission given them by God.
This past Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20) describes the call of the first apostles. Peter and Andrew, James and John, were going about their daily tasks when Jesus called them saying, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” The Gospel tells us that they left everything, job and family, to follow Jesus.
I often wonder what, exactly, it was about the person of Jesus that enabled these men to just drop everything and follow the Lord after this single encounter. He must have been one magnetic personality. I imagine that Peter, Andrew, James, and John didn’t at first understand why they were following but had a gut feeling that it was the right thing to do. Only after being with Jesus and listening to him did they get an inkling of the importance of being with him. Moana’s lifetime love of the ocean prepared her to follow her call into the unknown of the wide sea but she felt small and unprepared.
None of us has to figure out God’s call and how to respond to it alone. The apostles had each other and Jesus. Moana had Gramma Tala, Maui, and the ocean itself to guide and encourage her when she was about to give up. In our own journey of following God’s call, we, too, have people who help and guide us along the way. When I felt the call to religious life, a good friend of my parents who was a priest was instrumental in helping me make the first steps. Even now, the support, prayers, and encouragement of my family and the sisters of my community gives me the strength I need to respond to the daily demands of my vocation.
Gramma Tala and Moana from "Moana" (Disney Pictures)
We all have a vocation given to us by the Lord. Are our ears and eyes open to listen to God working in our lives? The desires God has for us are deep in our very selves, just like Moana’s love of the ocean indicated that her mission lay beyond the confines of Motunui. Listen, especially in prayer, for God speaking to you through your deepest desires. What makes you truly at peace?
One thing I noticed in watching “Moana” is that special emphasis is given to being called by name. The name Moana in Hawaiian means ocean. When Moana calls to the lava monster, she tells her, “I know your name.” When Moana is about to give up on her mission, Gramma Tala reminds her of her call asking her, “Do you know who you are?” This forces Moana to claim not only her heritage as the daughter of the chief, but as a voyager and all that makes her who she is. The song ends on a triumphant note, “I am Moana!”
God calls each of us by name. He’s planted in our hearts the desires that will help us respond to that call. Responding is not easy and it takes a lot of hard work to, first, discern what it is God is calling me to, and then following the call, not only in big life decisions but in the daily things God puts in front of us. But it all pays off in the end. True peace only comes from fulfilling God’s will for me and any other path, although it may be good in itself, cannot bring the peace and joy that comes from doing what and being who God means me to be.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1.