Moana, the Sacred Heart, and the Eucharist

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Note, SPOILER ALERT if you have not seen this movie.

I watched Disney’s Moana on Netflix the other night with my daughter. It was the third time we had seen it, because we both loved it! I woke up thinking about it the next morning, and realized (oh, how did I forget) when I looked at the Mass readings for the day that it was the Solemn Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Wow! This spoke to me.

The Sacred Heart is a beautiful solemn feast in which the Church celebrates the unfathomable love Jesus has for each of us, symbolized by the image of His heart. The heart of Christ is depicted as pierced with thorns, bleeding, and on fire. Ponder this image, which came to us through (among others) a mystic, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who said that in her visions, Jesus Himself gave her this image, and He wanted all people to know about it, meditate on it, see it, and have devotion to it. Again…Jesus wanted his heart depicted as wounded, bleeding, and burning to show the passionate love He has for us. This is not a collective “us”. This burning love is for you, [insert your name here]. Every hair on your head is counted, as He says in the Gospels. He calls you by name. His love for each person is extremely passionate, deep, and personal.  He wants us to know this, and so He has revealed it to us in so many ways. The Scriptures and the Sacraments testify to this love, and He gave us the image of the Sacred Heart, the solemn feast day, and also asked that devotion to His Sacred Heart be practiced on every First Friday.

I admit, I did not always have an appreciation for devotion to the beautiful Sacred Heart of Jesus. I remember when I was young seeing a print with a cheap frame above a stove perhaps in a friend’s grandmother’s kitchen, or I occasionally saw it on tattoos. In my hasty, unexamined teen and early adulthood opinion, this was all frankly, odd. Now, however, I understand that people can honor the Sacred Heart in various ways, and Christ will speak to us through this image wherever and in whatever manner we open ourselves to it (even if that opening is only the slightest crack).

So…back to Moana, a Disney movie somewhat based on Oceanic mythology. From what I’ve read, much of it was done well and is accurate; some of it was not. At any rate, everyone I personally know who saw it absolutely loved the story, and found it very moving, even to the point of tears (often), during the movie. I conclude this is because there is much Gospel truth in the story, it has beautiful music, and Moana herself is a noble and inspiring character.

Longings throughout her childhood, mystical experiences, the wise guidance of her grandmother, and fate all lead Moana to discern that her mission is to restore the heart of the demigod, Te Fiti, which had been stolen by Maui (another demigod), long before Moana was born. As a result, Te Fiti stopped creating new islands, the ones she had previously made began to decay, and darkness had spread, threatening Moana’s own island and her people. In  dramatic moment, the night her beloved grandmother dies, and against the wishes of her father, Moana leaves her island and people and proceeds to persevere through a treacherous journey during which she overcomes numerous threats and receives help from the ocean itself, and from Maui.

Finally, Moana faces off with the powerful and demonic Te Ka. Maui’s first instinct is to try to defeat Te Ka with force, which is clearly impossible, given the strength and power of Te Ka. Moana, however, remains calm, and realizes the power of the heart of Te Fiti she has carried on this journey — it is the power of LOVE, which alone can conquer Te Ka. She courageously says to the ocean (which has supernatural powers), “Let her come to me.” Enjoy what happens next, and the beautiful scene of the restoration of the heart of Te Fiti here:

Note how the ocean parts (like the Red Sea did for Moses, which was a foreshadowing of Baptism); Te Ka angrily approaches, as Moana sings Know Who You Are: “I have crossed the horizon to find you /I know your name /They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you /This is not who you are /You know who you are.” And, then…Moana places Te Ka’s lost heart into her chest. Is not Moana a beautiful and noble image of our Savior? Do the words of this song reflect that the Lord calls us by name, that He goes out to seek us when we are lost?

Immediately after Te Ka’s heart is restored, she is healed, returns to her former self as the beautiful island goddess Te Fiti and her life-generating abilities return. Everything around her suddenly and magnificently bursts into vegetation of various vibrant colors.

I cannot help but see the heart of Te Fiti as a reflection of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whenever the Sacred Heart is depicted, Jesus is shown as revealing his heart, and usually even offering it to us. Consider that God says through the prophet Ezekiel (36:26), “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This Old Testament promise is fulfilled in the gift of the Eucharist, where Jesus truly gives us His heart! I think of the numerous Eucharistic miracles (in various times and places) in which the Eucharistic host has visibly turned into flesh, it was subsequently analyzed, and was shown to be heart tissue (and, as a side note, blood type AB). When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we are truly receiving His heart, and also His blood that was poured out for us, His soul, and His divinity. If the story of Moana has moved us, how much more should the knowledge of Christ’s love for us, and His continual gift of His heart given to us in the Eucharist? If we but take time to ponder it, should we not be overwhelmed with thanksgiving and love for Jesus for this unfathomable gift?

Are we not like Te Ka without the presence of Jesus in our lives? “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). How easily and quickly do our hearts become hard, cold, and cynical? (I certainly speak for myself here.) If I just wake up and look at the news or social media instead of turning to Him in prayer, I am already well on my way! But, with Jesus, holiness is possible, as is self control, love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness — all the fruits of the Spirit.

Yes, I freely admit that I am often like Te Ka, and I see in Moana a reflection of our Savior. The Savior beckons, and I approach salvation through the parted waters of Baptism, drawing closer to the beautiful, shining heart (which is actually Jesus’s own heart, given for us). He Himself places it within my chest. Immediately, I am transformed. I am healed. I am forgiven. I can love with His love. My life can be abundance, fruitfulness, and life.

This is what receiving the heart of Jesus does for us spiritually — remember, the pierced, bleeding heart that is on fire with love. With Him, we are free from the slavery of sin, death, destruction, darkness, and evil. We are free to truly be the beautiful people that God made us to be (You Know Who You Are). Like the beautiful, life bearing Te Fiti.

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I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26