A Catholic Dad Reflects on ‘The Lion King’
The Disney movie provides fodder for reflection on the spiritual life and my role in the family as a father.
I had the chance today to see the live-action Lion King movie with my children, and there were many aspects of the movie and lines from the characters that gave me fodder for reflection on the spiritual life and my role in the family as a father. What follows is not a movie review or critique of any kind, but the thoughts that came to the mind of a Catholic father.
First of all, it is clear that Simba is made for something. One character even says to him that he cannot escape his destiny. He must become the king that he was meant to be. While in the wilderness of Timon and Pumbaa, the idea is presented that Simba is living the dream life, doing whatever he wants, without rules, care or responsibility. Life is meaningless, and Simba is invited to become whatever and whoever he wants to be. Apparently, even meerkats and warthogs can be existentialists. “No worries” is the motto of the carefree trio, but that philosophy simply does not hold up. The most catchy tune of the movie, Hakuna Matata, espouses a philosophy that is selfish and false. Rafiki, the wise old baboon, exhorts Simba that the real question is, “Who are you?” “You must remember who you are,” he says.
God has a vision for each of us. We all have a calling. If we have been given freedom of the will, it is not for us to decide our own destiny, make up the meaning of our own lives, or do whatever it is we feel like doing. We are free so that we can fully realize ourselves by giving ourselves away (Gaudium et Spes, 24). We are responsible for one another. We have a duty to become fully alive and recognize, just as Simba had to realize that Mufasa lives in him, that God lives in and through us. It is not freedom to shirk the fundamental human vocation of love, but slavery to something less. We, too, must remember who we are: sons and daughters of the King of Kings. As Rafiki says, everyone is a someone — even a no one.
Mufasa explains to Simba that there is a delicate balance in the pridelands among all living things. There is a circle of life that must be observed, respected and maintained. The movie portrays what happens when the natural order is not respected. Simba ignores his part in that circle. He buys into the philosophy that there is no circle, just a line, and what we do doesn’t really matter. The entire Prideland suffers. Scar and the hyenas pay no attention to the delicate balance of life, and they turn the Pridelands into a wasteland. The hyena’s belly is never full, and the rest of creation pays the price. But Simba can’t shake the idea that there is more, that the stars are not “nothing but” fireflies or spheres of burning gas. The fact is that there is order and meaning built into the cosmos.
When we ignore the nature of our body and soul, we turn our interior into a wasteland. Spiritual desolation and isolation engulfs the soul of him who turns against the order of the cosmos, spiritual or physical. The deadliest wound occurs in the soul of him who commits the deed. And there is no such thing as a private sin. When we are less than we were made to be, we commit an injustice against those to whom we owe our best selves.
The Roles of a Father and a Priest
Mufasa explains to Simba that, in accord with the circle of life, a real king does not think about what he can take, but about what he can give. Scar, on the other hand, is only concerned with what he can take. These themes, of course, are all interconnected. The real power of a king is his compassion, says Simba’s mother.
My role of authority in the family is not for my own sake; it is for the sake of my wife and children. Those who are in authority are given that responsibility in order to serve and protect, whether that is in the family, the local parish, the diocese, or even on the level of local or national politics. If I take selfish advantage of my role as head of the family, the home becomes a wasteland. If I shirk my duty to my family, they become prey to the hyenas whose bellies are never full. When pastors prey on their parishioners or ignore their duty to spiritually protect their churches, our population turns into a spiritual wasteland. Mufasa is absolutely fierce against the enemies when it comes to defending his son. I as a father and our priests must take a similar attitude with respect to the spiritual development and protection of our families and parishes. When the rightful king does not take his place on the throne, someone or something else will, but the delicate balance will be overthrown.
I realize that we can fall into despair at this time in the Church when we look out and see what looks like a barren landscape. But, no matter how bleak, barren, and desolate the landscape may be, be of good courage; the Rightful King who once was dead is alive again, and from the ashes He will raise up a new kingdom of beauty and harmony.
Two More Things
There is a wonderful moment when Simba’s mother sees him again, grown up and glorious, after thinking he was dead. It reminded me of what it must have been like for Our Lady to see Jesus, the Son-King, who once was dead but is now alive again.
The iconic moments at the beginning and end of the movie when Simba and then his own son are held up by Rafiki, the priest figure, on Pride Rock for the kingdom to recognize and honor reminded me of Adoration and the Mass, when Christ is suspended above the altar for the whole congregation to worship. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the true king, the Lion of Judah, Who held nothing back for us. He is the Great King who cares for us who were just a bunch of outcasts.