We’re a little late to the Moana train here at the Angel household, but we’ve finally soaked in (pun intended) this animated Disney masterpiece. Our daughter is already singing the songs, yelling at the ocean whenever we visit the beach, and bursting into song anytime someone says “You’re welcome!”
If you’re like us and you can’t help but watch films with theological lenses (“Cinema Divina,” we call it), you likely picked up on all sorts of “God moments” in Moana: it begins with a creation story, there is a strong sense of divine providence guiding the journey, and evil being overcome with goodness. For today let’s focus on one of the strongest themes in the film: vocation.
Vocation comes from the Latin “vocare” literally meaning “voice,” or as we now know it, “to call.” We like to distinguish between “little v” vocations (a trade or craft) and “big V” vocations (the explicit call to marriage, the priesthood, religious life, consecrated life). We Christians believe that God explicitly calls us in the act of vocation, drawing us forward through our passions, our dreams, and the witness of mentors to model for us the road forward. God moves not so much in earthquakes or fortune cookies, but in that still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) within our hearts.
“And nothing on earth can silence / The quiet voice still inside you”
Moana reiterates the “call” she is receiving from the Sea. The demands of the call are revealed to her over time, but it’s a feeling of momentum that she can’t turn off. To hear such a call requires that we still ourselves, embrace silence, and listen; valuable lessons we must all learn and re-learn in this age of relentless technological noise.
Her grandmother (the village crazy lady) is happy to mentor her and stoke the flames of courage within Moana’s heart. Vocation comes first from identity, not the other way around. When we forget who we are, we have no chance to live out our mission. On more than one occasion, Moana has to remember who she is and proclaim her identity to move forward in her call.
Like Moana, we often can’t put it to words or empirically explain why we feel called to a certain path. She can’t name why the Sea chose her for her mission, and she struggles with her unworthiness. We can all identify with such sentiments. When asked about his own vocation, St. John Paul II said that:
“…it is impossible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: ‘Come, follow me!”
We don’t always receive support in support of our vocation. Moana’s father, in particular, is obstinate in allowing her mission to take place. (A common obstacle for young people today in pursuing an extraordinary vocation (especially a religious vocation) is discouragement from family members). Jesus himself promises that there will be times when our call to follow him will create divisions among family and friends, but this is the cross we must embrace, lest we reject our call to do great things for the glory of God.
We’re all wanders and voyagers, pilgrims on an earth that isn’t our home. Even all the distractions and trappings of our modern culture cannot extinguish the restless call within our hearts for something “more,” the call to greatness; ultimately, it’s a call to the heart of God. To finish our thoughts here on vocation we’ll close out again with our beloved St. John Paul II:
“There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest. And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy that to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God’s people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope.”