Embracing Grace — a homily inspired by Disney’s Encanto
Mass readings from the Catholic Comprehensive Lectionary: Jeremiah 17:5-8, Peter 4:12-17, Ps. 63, Luke 6:17-26
I read a theological reflection this weekend from a fellow ESR seminary alum, Adriana Cabrera Velázquez, about the new Disney film, Encanto. She points to the ways it reflects images of God in Colombian culture, and how the story can be used as a metaphor for the urgent need and means for Church transformation in her country. (Spoiler alert: women and youth are the way.) Her insights have inspired my homily.
The word encanto means charm or enchantment, and it’s a word that reflects a sense of wonder. The movie takes place in a village in Colombia that only exists because of a miracle that enchanted a family known as the familia Madrigal, and provides a flourishing place of protection from the violence its villagers once fled. The miracle is centered in the home of Casa Madrigal, represented by a candle, and embodied through the rituals and spiritual gifts of different family members. As with any good story, the plot revolves around a threat to the entire community. Alma, the family matriarch whose name means “soul,” loses sight of the miracle and mistakes it for the candle itself. The struggle to save Casa Madrigal is juxtaposed between Alma’s belief in an unchanging tradition and heroine Maribel’s desperate attempt to save her family. It truly is a metaphor for how we might see God at work in our lives, and what is needed to transform and save our Church.
And, it’s more. It speaks to our humanity, to our quest for holiness — especially when that quest leads us to feeling like we have to be “the strong one” or “ the right one” or “ the perfect one” and like if we don’t meet certain expectations, we won’t be worthy, or our world will collapse. The movie uses exaggeration, but it’s smartly done. When the movie came out, I received text after text from friends asking, “have you seen Encanto? Tell me you’ve seen Encanto!” When my answer was still no, one friend sent me the song Under the Surface, and said “just please listen to this.” I am certain this song is now the anthem of so many parents, caregivers, and humans who feel more pressure than they can handle at this stage of their trauma-laden lives: “pressure like a drip-drip-drip that will never stop.” It’s too much, and we really do have to help it stop!
In the movie, Maribel’s big sister Luisa has the gift of super-strength. She literally does all the heavy lifting for the entire village — and with a smile on her face. That is, until Maribel notices something is wrong. Confronted with Maribel’s concern, Luisa sings her a song about the pressure she feels everyday, about the fear of letting everyone down. She sings the litany of expectations placed upon her, which are not just self-imposed, but reinforced by family and community beliefs. She is and must be the strong one. And the absolutism of that is just too much. It goes from being a gift, to being a curse. Just like the grandmother mistakes the miracle for the candle itself, the entire community mistakes Luisa for her strength — as if the wholeness of her being is reduced to that singular ability. We, just like the familia Madrigal, need liberation from oppressive expectations so we can live into our natural giftedness as people of God in balanced, caring communities.
I think these stories are important to share in light of today’s readings, which could very easily be used to reinforce absolutisms. Jeremiah warns against “those who trust immoral inclinations” and blesses those “whose hope is in God.” Peter divides the world into evil-doers who destroy others rights and believers who are accountable to the Good news of our God. Even Jesus’ words ask us to think in terms of opposites. Rich and poor, hungry and full, weeping and laughing, blessing and curse. I love these stories, and yet we really do have to work sometimes to consider how they affect us. I don’t think our Biblical writers wanted us to take absolutisms from their writings, but encouragement to lean into the spaces where God’s grace lives.
The history of Catholicism has been shaped in terms of theological extremes, requiring that we identify good from evil, that we turn from sin toward salvation. I would dare say most of us have measured ourselves up to the words “worthy” or “unworthy,” “sinners” and “saints.” At a simplistic level, this might be helpful, but the extreme judgment of dualism can be very destructive. What does it mean to be “worthy” of a sacrament? Who decides? Why is that even part of our language, when sacraments are about inviting and celebrating grace? In reality, we as individuals and communities are so much more complex, and we deserve more than absolutist ideals. What do we do with the in-between? With ourselves?
I think most of us need less absolutist division and more grace. That’s what Maribel embodies in Encanto, along with curiosity, faith, forgiveness, and love. Grace saves the familia Madrigal, and it’s touching because it’s such a beautiful metaphor for our own lives. So if you need something uplifting and haven’t seen it, let this movie recommendation be my Valentine’s day gift to you.
For our sharing time today, I would love to hear any reflections you have. What self-limiting language have you witnessed or experienced as harmful? How do you experience grace?