The lovely family animated film Moana is very entertaining, but it immediately struck the sisters in my community with its theme of discernment.
It was a no-brainer to put together another Discernment @ the Movies guide, but this time I had the joy of working with Sr. Christina Wegendt, FSP, with whom I often discuss the deeper themes of popular movies. I have put the text of the guide below; later this week I will put it up as a PDF.
DISCERNMENT @ THE MOVIES
Set in ancient Polynesian islands and mythology, Moana is the story of the teenaged daughter of a chieftain who has forbidden his people to sail beyond the reef into the wide ocean. Yet from her childhood, Moana feels a deep connection to the ocean, encouraged by her grandmother’s stories.
Moana struggles between the demands of her parents and her own inner longings. When she discovers that the islands are dying, she believes that the cause is found in her grandmother’s stories: the demigod Maui stole and then lost the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, who created the islands. To save her people and her world, Moana “goes out into the deep” to find Maui and convince him to return Te Fiti’s heart.
Before you watch the film, read the following Scripture passage:
Luke 5: 2-11
[Jesus] saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.*
Discernment Key to Watching the Film
As you watch the film, pay attention to: the themes of identity and listening, and how they shape Moana’s understanding of her call
After Watching the Film
You may wish to bring the following questions to prayer, reflection, or discussion in a group:
- What is your favorite moment of the film? How did it touch you and why?
- In discerning how she was called to lead her people, Moana listened to many voices: those of her parents, her grandmother as a wise spiritual elder, the community, and the ocean. Late in the film, she is discovers that one of the most important voices to listen to is “the voice inside.”How does God speak to you? How can you nurture a deeper listening to more easily hear God in your life?
- In stepping out in faith to follow their calls, both Moana and Saint Peter wrestle with doubts. What doubts do you wrestle with in seeking to follow God’s call for you? How does Jesus’ call to “put out into the deep” resonate in your heart?
- The film is filled with beautiful imagery of creation, and the ocean is an important character. In the Bible, the image of water can represent the life of God in us—the Holy Spirit at work in us. What does the film’s imagery of the ocean evoke in you?
- Stepping out in faith caused both Moana and Saint Peter to come to more truly “know who they are.” Do you see ways the Lord has helped you grow in self-knowledge through moments of acting with faith in him?
- Once they took a leap of faith and grew in self-knowledge, both Moana and Peter discover their mission. Jesus wants to take you on this same journey to discover your own unique mission in the kingdom of God! He said to Peter: Do not be afraid. What might the Lord be saying in your heart as you seek to follow him more closely?
Pray with one of the Church’s traditional, eloquent hymns to the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would be with us and guide us.
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come
from thy bright heav’nly throne;
come, take possession of our souls,
and make them all thine own…
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Thank you for your patience with me as I return from my trip to Illinois and catch up with a few urgent projects. For the beginning of the New Year, I will be in Los Angeles for meetings with our sisters, and I am taking that opportunity to offer a retreat day at our Pauline Book & Media Center in Culver City, CA, on Saturday, January 7th. Retreat will be followed by Mass at our chapel at 4 PM.
A day of retreat is a wonderful way to re-discover and rejoice in the gift of God’s love and to allow his love to transform us. Abiding in his love enables us to discern God’s will for us in this new year, and once again align our will with God’s. If you live in the Los Angeles area, this is a marvelous way to start the year.
Salt + Light TV did a special broadcast of a unique web forum on vocational discernment, “So You Think You’ve Been Called?” hosted by the lively Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann. I missed the initial stream, but right now you can still replay it on-demand here.
These past two weeks, I have been preparing content for radio programs, for our website, for our sisters on the theme of Pauline Apostolic Mysticism, and for the Advent retreats that I will be leading in Illinois. Although it’s a huge series of deadlines that can be unnerving at times, I have to confess that I am enjoying being able to “sink deep” into the beautiful mysteries of our faith! I think that my Advent this year will be extra-special.
To find some excellent and free Advent resources, visit my latest Windows to the Soul blogpost here.
By the way, if you live near Chicago or near Mercer County, IL–near Aledo, Matherville, or Viola–I will be there in December. It would be great to meet you! Here are the events:
In Mercer County (Aledo, Viola, and Matherville, IL)
One of the best ways to #learnhowtodiscern is through others’ examples of discernment. This article in America magazine by Patrick J. Ryan, SJ, is a wonderful example of a Jesuit’s discernment that beautifully illustrates the three ways of discerning which Saint Ignatius of Loyola talks about.
For some people, discernment is most important to practice when they are making a major decision in their life, such as their vocation, a job change, etc. But once they have made this big decision, they forget about the practice of discernment.
But because it’s always important to seek God’s will, discerning God’s will in every day life is a very helpful spiritual practice.
Discerning God’s will in big life decisions like following our vocation enables us to set the overall direction of our life in accord with God’s will. But the purpose of doing so is so that our entire lives can be lived in accord with God’s will. Bringing that same spirit of seeking God’s will into the smaller decisions of our lives—even the daily ones—helps us to become more and more attuned to God’s will, to the point that we take on Jesus’ attitude of seeking only the will of the Father.
When we discern God’s will in the smaller things of our lives, then our entire day—and our entire lives—align with God’s will.
Even small choices can shape our lives, though we may not know it. Especially small choices that we repeat, over and over again, can lead to habits, form attitudes, and push us in a specific direction that shapes larger events. This is another motivation for seeking God’s will in everything, in daily life.
Many of the saints wrote about the importance of uniting our wills to God’s:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” – St. Paul in Letter to the Romans 8:28
“At the beginning of each day, and of meditation, Mass, and Communion, declare to God that you desire to belong to Him entirely, and that you will devote yourself wholly to acquiring the spirit of prayer and of the interior life. Make it your chief study to conform yourself to the will of God even in the smallest things….” – Jean-Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence
“Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God: ‘Charity is the bond of perfection;’ and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s.” – St. Alphonsus de Ligouri in Uniformity with the Will of God
“The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will.” – Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
“The will of God is the great sun to which the soul, like the sunflower, has to be always turned.” – Blessed James Alberione
“My God, you are always thinking about me. You are with me and around me. I am written on your hands. I surrender myself to you completely and forever.” – Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo
In a recent post, I wondered if this blog has emphasized enough the spiritual groundwork that we need to live in a spirit of discernment. I was especially thinking of the challenge of living in ongoing conversion as a discernment essential.
Do we really need “ongoing conversion”? We tend to think about conversion as a big event, something that happens when we become baptized, or make a huge change in our lives. But we need conversion in daily life, too, because no matter how dedicated we are to follow Christ, there are always very real obstacles to our union with him: temptations of this world and from other people, temptations from the devil, and, perhaps most confusing, temptations from within us—which are the effects of original sin. No temptation is more powerful than Christ’s grace at work in us, but when we give any of them attention, we start to let them drown out Christ’s invitations. Whether it’s a particular temptation, a moment of weakness, or a situation that leads us to sin, when we are no longer attentive to living God’s universal will of avoiding sin, our discernment becomes extremely difficult.
When he began his public life, Jesus invited everyone to conversion—the holy and the sinners. Conversion is a turning towards God, away from ourselves. This process is described beautifully by Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and there is a short commentary on this parable in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has a nice section on Conversion, Repentance, and Penance in the Article that treats the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance). I especially found #s1427-1439 helpful with regard to ongoing conversion.
The Pauline Family received a special invitation to live in ongoing conversion. In a time of great doubt for our Founder Blessed James Alberione, Jesus appeared to him and confirmed him in the Pauline vocation and spirituality that he was beginning in the Pauline Family. Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here,” and Jesus pointed to the tabernacle, “I will enlighten. Live with a penitent heart.”
The Founder gave these words to us; they are a concrete expression of how we are called to live our vocation as Paulines. If you enter a Pauline chapel any where around the world (and we are in over 50 countries), you will find these words there, in some form.
Our Founder wrote an account of this event at least twice in Italian, and they were not “word for word.” In particular, that last phrase has been translated several way into English:
“Live with a penitent heart.”
“Be sorry for sin.”
“Live in continual conversion.”
What I love about all three phrases is that they all express ongoing, daily conversion as essential to our life and mission in Christ, in our obedience to the Father’s will. How would you describe Christ’s call in your life to ongoing conversion?
You may also wish to check out this Litany of Ongoing Conversion, which offers insights into how we might need to convert!
The past few weeks, I keep running into some wonderful prayers for discernment, so I thought I’d share them here:
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has a lovely collection of Prayers for Discernment from a variety of Catholic spiritual traditions (Francis of Assisi, Carmelite, and one of my personal favorites by St. Thomas More).
The Archdiocese of Boston has a short selection of prayers for discerning one’s vocation, including one written by our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, and another beautiful prayer written by another Daughter of St. Paul, Sr. Nancy Michael Usselmann, FSP
IgnatianSpirituality.com has many wonderful resources on discernment, but this is a page that I frequently send people to: it is a list of prayers by St. Ignatius of Loyola and other Jesuits. There are many wonderful prayers here–not all about discernment–but most of them reference seeking to know or follow God’s will in some way.
Finally, I’ll close with a short prayer for discernment that I wrote when I was vocation director, and which is included in our Discern It! App for discerning vocations:
October is the month of the Rosary, with October 7th being the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. One of the things that we do when we pray the Rosary is reflect on all the “major events” in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Meditating on how Mary was so completely and constantly receptive to the work and invitations of the Holy Spirit within her can be very helpful in learning how we can better discern and respond to the invitations of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Rosary is one of the best prayers to pray frequently–not just during times of deeper discernment–but all the time.
It’s fitting that the feast of Pope St. John Paul II, whose motto was “Totus Tuus” falls during this month as well, on October 22nd. One of my favorite books is an early compilation of his writings on Mary: John Paul II’s Book of Mary, compiled by Margaret R. Bunson. (It is currently on sale in paperback!)
This excerpt from Pope St. John Paul II’s address at Caracas in 1985 is one of the quotes that gave me the courage to continue this blog–I hope it can offer some inspiration for our discernments:
“It is the Virgin Mary who invites us to consider history as an adventure of love in which God keeps his promises and triumphs with his fidelity. A history is which God asks us, as he asked the Virgin, to be his associates, his collaborators, in order to carry out his plan of salvation from generation to generation. This requires that we respond to God, like Mary, with a total and irrevocable ‘fiat.’ ”