By Eric A. Clayton
Here’s a hot take: “Encanto” is a Christmas movie.
A young family is forced to leave their home, threatened by violence and death, and bearing children that will be literal miracles to the community that welcomes them. Average people living normal lives become refugees overnight. And out of heart-wrenching sacrifice is born a life-giving miracle — and a chance at new life.
Well, maybe a Feast of the Holy Innocents movie. Still — Christmas season.
Despite its release on Disney+ on Christmas Eve — and my daughter’s insistence that we watch it immediately — it wasn’t until a few days after Christmas that we got around to sitting down for a movie as a family.
I’m glad we waited. Having prayed through the Christmas story, I was primed and ready to see that same story reflected in this really beautiful Disney tale.
“Encanto” takes place in a fantastical corner of the Colombian countryside. It’s a colorful story about family and sacrifice, about coming of age and coming to know yourself. And it’s sprinkled liberally with catchy tunes – thanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda – that have reverberated throughout my home for the last two months.
It won’t spoil anything to say that our young protagonist, Mirabel Madrigal — voiced by Stephanie Beatriz — stands out in her family. Unlike her mother, aunt and uncle, her sisters and cousins, she is the only descendant of Abuela Alma who didn’t receive a magical gift: super-strength, the ability to talk to animals, healing powers or something else equally exciting. She’s just regular old Mirabel.
This tension between preserving the magic of the Madrigal family — magic they have put to wonderful use in serving their community — and seeing past the magic to the real people — family members with their own unique needs and struggles — is at the heart of the movie’s plot.
Abuela Alma becomes so obsessed with living up to the responsibility of the miracle of her family’s powers that she overlooks the good of her family. Haunted by her husband’s sacrifice, she can’t move on — she lives each day as though paying off an impossible debt.
And here, I think, is the Christmas story at work. Because we, too, can fall prey to the same temptation as Abuela Alma. God enters our lives — our unique stories — as gift; nothing more, nothing less. The sacrifice has been made out of love. And we don’t have to earn it; it’s already ours.
We live our lives and our gifts as a grateful response to this act of love – not as payment.
What we can do, though, is make life miserable for those around us, those we observe as falling short of God’s great gift. We can judge too harshly or put too much pressure on those we see as not living up to what God expects. And in so doing, we cause our human family to rupture, to crack, to crumble.
In “Encanto,” it’s Mirabel — the one who is seemingly without any obvious magical gifts — who saves the day, who helps those who do have noticeable gifts realize what really matters. She brings the family together — and saves it.
In one of the final songs, “All of You,” Abuela Alma sings: “A miracle is not some magic that you got, the miracle is you. Not some gift, just you.”
I think that’s what God wants all of us to remember. We all have gifts, of course. I like to think mine is writing. But at the end of the day, God doesn’t love me because I’m a writer; God loves me because I am me. That’s it.
And it’s the same for you. No matter what your gifts are, no matter how fantastic or challenging your life is at this moment, God delights in you.
Not for what you’ve got. Not because of some gift. Just because of you.
So, look in the mirror. And see what God sees: someone beautiful worth infinite delight.
This reflection is part of a weekly series that you can get sent right to your inbox by signing up at Jesuits.org/weekly.
Eric A. Clayton is the deputy director for communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith” (Loyola Press). His writing has appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Give Us This Day and more.