As we journey in these last days to Christmas, I have to stop and wonder, which nativity scene am I participating in? Am I standing at a distance? Am I getting in as close as possible?
I hope you all enjoyed having regular posts throughout Lent. I enjoyed writing within a larger theme for a series of posts, rather than a more popcorn-style posting method. I think I’m going to roll with it for a little while and see how it continues to work with the Holy Spirit’s inspirations. So, for the Easter Season, I give you – Encanto!
For those without children or grandchildren under age 12, Encanto is one of Disney’s newest films. Set in rural Columbia, Encanto follows the story of the Madrigal family, specifically the character Mirabel. I’d like to say up front that this series of posts WILL include spoilers for the film. I’ll try to avoid them for this post, so you’ll have at least one week to watch the film if that interests you before we crack more deeply into the story.
The story begins by introducing the audience to the family Madrigal. The family was fleeing from what appears to be Spanish conquistadors. At the last moment, when hope seemed lost, Abuelo Pedro (Grandfather Pedro), while standing in a river, turns and sacrifices himself in an attempt to slow down the horses to allow his wife, three infants, and the rest of their village, escape to safety. From his sacrifice, a magical candle appears and creates an enclosed valley, an Encanto, that protects the villagers from harm. It also creates an anthropomorphic house and bestows gifts on the family members. A quick run down of the characters and their gifts:
- Abuela Alma (Grandmother Alma) – The miracle of the Encanto and the safety of her family
- Tia Pepa (Aunt Pepa) – Mood controls/affects the weather – one of Abuela’s children
- Julieta – Can heal you with food, especially arepas – Mirabel’s mother and one of Abuela’s children
- Tio Bruno (Uncle Bruno) – Can tell the future – one of Abuela’s children
- Camillo – Can shapeshift into other people – son of Pepa
- Dolores – Can hear the smallest sounds from a distance – daughter of Pepa
- Antonio – Receives his gift at the start of the movie – son of Pepa
- Luisa – Super strength – daughter of Julieta
- Isabela – Can make flowers out of nothing – daughter of Julieta
- Mirabel – Does not appear to have a gift. During the ceremony when she was supposed to receive it, nothing seemed to be bestowed. She has not displayed any particular gift aside from being able to communicate extremely well with the house.
There are some major themes to be discussed from this movie. Ben and I keep circling back to it, partly because we cannot escape the soundtrack which plays at least twice a day in our home presently. But also because there are some rather convicting messages to spend time with. Here’s a preview of what’s to come in this series. I plan to tackle one theme each week:
When a gift is freely given, does it need to be earned after the fact? Or, to put it another way, do you need to prove yourself worthy after receiving a blessing?
What are the dangers of perfectionism, especially when it is imposed from others? How can unrealistic expectations harm both individuals and relationships?
To quote a line from Luisa’s main song, “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” How many of us resonate with this feeling? What sort of pressure do we put on ourselves that is unrealistic or unhealthy?
What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? How can being told your life is perfect affect your understanding of happiness?
The elephant in the room that everyone is talking about but no one has authentic conversations about.
What is Mirabel’s gift? What can we learn from it?
I hope you are excited about the series. I promise that for those of you unfamiliar with the story, I’ll try to make things as clear as possible so that you can also glean some wisdom and insights from this film. For this week, if you really want to dig into this series with me, think about the questions above. Even without previously seeing the movie, they ought to have sparked some kind of response or emotion from you. I’m looking forward to sharing the movie’s perspective, my own, and hopefully hearing yours.
Jesus is Risen! Alleluia!
For Lent this year I tried to spend time every day reading through the Gospels with my Word on Fire Bible. This Bible is gorgeous and full of so much goodness. I really appreciate how Bishop Barron and his team incorporated reflections, explanations, word study, art, even poetry, to accompany the Gospel text. I enjoyed slowing down and taking my time to read everything on each page.
While the takeaways were many and I hope to write about more of them, for this Easter Day one thing in particular stayed with me. Early in Matthew’s Gospel he describes his calling to follow Jesus. Matthew was sitting at his collections table, most likely surrounded by others. Jesus singles Matthew out of the crowd and simply says, “Follow me.”
Matthew says he, “rose up and followed him.” End scene. There isn’t much in these few words. However, there is so much when you know ancient languages! I do not so I, like so many of us, rely on others to illuminate what is hidden in our English translation. When Matthew says he “rose up” or in some translations, “got up,” the specific verb he uses is anastas. Not so coincidentally, when we fast forward to Jesus’ Resurrection, the same root word (this time anastasis) is used by Gospel writers to describe the phenomenon.
Jesus, as we know, rose up transformed. His disciples did not always immediately recognize Him. He could walk through walls and locked doors. He was Jesus, yet He was fundamentally changed, something new that had never before been in the world. Looking back over his life, Matthew recognized that his own call by the Lord marked something significant. He had been changed to the core in that moment, a complete transformation from one man to a new man. A resurrection with a little “r” that points toward Jesus’ redemptive Resurrection which transformed the world.
How much of the Bible do we miss in these little word nuances? I am so thankful for the Bible editors and translators who take the time to shed light on the text for those of us unable to access the original languages.
As you celebrate Easter today and throughout the next week, perhaps take some time to look back on your own life. Have you had a moment where you “rose up” to follow Jesus? How has your life changed because He has called you? And make no mistake, He has, He is, and He will always be calling you to further transformational relationship with Him.
While not every home may have a designated “guest room,” most families have some kind of space or plan for how to host guests. In our home, our guest space is multi-functional. When we do not have one of our parents (our most frequent guests – hooray for grandparents!) staying with us, the guest room serves as a sewing/weaving/film scanning/3-D printer/violin practice/overflow storage room. That’s quite a lot for one room. Whenever I am preparing for someone to come stay, I usually end up in the middle of it and wonder, “Where am I going to put them with all the stuff in here!?”
No matter how multi-functional your guest space is, there are things you do when you know someone is coming. I can recall whenever my own grandmother would come to stay we always had to clean the bathroom. It didn’t matter if it had been cleaned the day prior, my mom always (at least it felt like always, she may say differently) had to have the bathroom clean. I have a little mental checklist I try to get through at least 24 hours before a guest arrives. It goes something like this:
- Clean the bathroom (surprised?)
- Dust the guest room
- Verify the sheets are clean
- Clear off the table as much as possible to allow for guest use
- Tidy room as much as possible, lament over how crammed it is, wish I had better storage solutions, try to cram the yarn boxes deeper into the closet, remember the closet doors won’t close because of the looms in the way, straighten the bed covers again because I can at least make that presentable, close the door and say it’s good enough.
It’s not perfect, obviously.
There’s another kind of guest I’d like to consider. So far, I’ve been thinking about the planned guest. What about the unplanned or spontaneous guest? What do you do when you child wants to have a playdate or you think it would be nice to have a family over for a weekend bbq? Depending on when you make those plans, you may or may not have time to overhaul your house.
When we lived in California, I dreaded having anyone over. I felt like our home was never clean enough, that I wasn’t prepared enough. I did not have a good system of cleaning and staying on top of things. I was easily overwhelmed with the prospect of hosting someone. I wanted to be the person who had it all together. Standing on the corner talking with a neighbor, playing at the park with a friend, the facade could stand. But to come into our home it would quickly crumble – at least from my perspective. I am a little sad to look back at that time, to see my lack of confidence in who I was and that I was enough, even if my home was quite less than magazine worthy (spoiler alert, it still isn’t magazine worthy). I know there are some friendships that I did not cultivate as I could have because of these doubts.
Back in 2010, the English version of the Roman Missal underwent a translation overhaul. One big change came during the Eucharistic Prayer. After singing the Lamb of God, we kneel. The priest elevates the Body and Blood of Jesus as says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” In the old translation, we said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word and I shall be healed.” Today, this response has changed to mirror the words of the Roman centurion from Matthew 8:5-8 who said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” The faith of the centurion was so great, Jesus healed his servant on the spot, not needing to go be physically with him.
When we echo the words of the centurion, we are placing ourselves before Jesus, asking Him to heal us even in our brokenness. Even though our homes and hearts are not perfect, our checklists not complete to welcome him. We acknowledge our unworthiness. St. Paul says it more eloquently than I ever could: “But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And again, “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-34).
Jesus does not say, “Get it together, then I’ll come over.” Yes, we are sinners. We are broken. But we are not lost. Jesus is the best kind of guest if we just let Him in. He will help us with our daily tasks, He will encourage us when times are tough, and no matter the mess, He will never leave us in our neediness. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve cleaned under the beds or not.
We are entering Holy Week. We’ve gone through most parts of our homes, considering how the function both physically and spiritually. As we transition to these holiest of days, the Church invites us into her home in a unique way. For each of the days of Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), once a year liturgical experiences are celebrated. We are entering the heart of our faith, the Paschal Mystery which is Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
Every year we celebrate these sacred mysteries. Jesus didn’t wait for the world to be ready before He came to save us. Every year we are invited to delve deeper into this gift of salvation, to invite Jesus to a more intimate relationship within us. Every day we have the opportunity to welcome Jesus into our home, but these days of Holy Week are exceptional.
This week, instead of focusing on our physical homes, take the time you have been using with these reflections to spend time on your spiritual home. Have you invited Jesus into your heart? Take Him on a tour of the work you’ve done these past weeks. How have you grown? Where do you need His mercy, His strength or His tenderness? Think about the Triduum days from last year. What liturgies did you attend? Stretch yourself and plan to attend one more than last year. Embrace these days and the spiritual drama that is unfolding. These days are one big story and we are invited to enter into it.