Monday, September 19, 2011

Heaven's Light: The Supernatural in Disney's Tangled, The End

Tangled ends with the unlikely hero Flynn dying on the floor, stabbed by the evil, sorceress step-mother in order that she may keep Rapunzel's regenerative powers from doing any one any good but herself. Rapunzel cuts a deal with her step-mother: she will submit to slavery if only she is allowed to heal her knight-in-shining-armor, which she proceeds to do despite Flynn's protest. In the end, Flynn sacrifices himself on behalf of Rapunzel's freedom, cutting all her hair short and robbing it of its healing magic. Rapunzel cradles her dead Beloved in her arms and sheds a tear:

Flynn knew that in order for his beloved to "have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10), he needed to give up his own. Yet, surprisingly, after he does so, at that moment when it seems all hope is lost, Rapunzel's tear falls on his cheek. Turns out they too carry the "light of the Sun" and Flynn is healed.

September 14th is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This is followed immediately by September 15th's feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. When the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph went to the Temple, as was the custom, to present the child Jesus to Simeon the High Priest, he prophesied Jesus' death on the Cross. In the same breath he said to Mary, "A sword will pierce through your own soul also," (Lk 2:35).

There is a parallel being drawn here between Christ's sufferings on the Cross and Mary's at his feet. As Christ's "soul" was pierced by Longinus' spear, so his Mother's soul would be pierced in sorrow as she stood at her dying son's feet. Of course a mother would grieve for her son dying in horrible pain, but does this passage point to something else as well?

Recently we took a look at rood screens and their place in traditional ecclesial architecture. What we didn't talk about is why they're called rood screens. Atop a great many of these screens or beams stands the Rood, Old English for cross. Inevitably, under the cross on either side stand Our Lady and John, the Beloved Disciple:

It is significant that it is John specifically, continually referred to as "the disciple whom Jesus loves" that stands at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady and his Mother. Of course, God loves all his children, but, as Jesus himself said, "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father," (Mt. 7:21). But what is the will of the Father? St. Paul tells us that "we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him," (Rom. 8:16-17).

In other words, our salvation is dependent on our suffering like Christ: humbly, lovingly, and on behalf of others. St. Peter tells us that "one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly," (1 Pet. 2:19). Like John, if we are to be faithful and "beloved" servants of Christ, we must stand with him in his agony. We must live a life of humility and suffering as he did.

Amazingly, though, according to Paul, our suffering can do even more good than just getting ourselves into heaven: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, the church," (Col. 1:24).

Wait a second. Did he just say what I think he said? How can it be that "Christ's afflictions" on our behalf "lack" anything? Of course, strictly speaking, they don't. Christ's sacrifice was all-sufficient. What, then, could St. Paul mean?

What is lacking in Christ's afflictions is the application of his grace to the individual. Christ's death on the Cross redeemed the world, it didn't save it. In other words, Christ did everything necessary for it to be possible for us to be reunited with God, but it is up to us whether we will take advantage of the redemption he offers or not. St. Paul is telling us how to do that: be like Christ, humbly submit ourselves to the pain the world has to dole out, unite our sufferings to his, and so become true Christians, or "little Christs."

In this way, we participate in Christ's redemption of the world. Not adding anything, for one cannot add to something infinite. One can, however, cooperate with it. The love and suffering of the Church makes Christ's sacrifice effective in the world, just as Rapunzel's sadness brought about the happiness Flynn's sacrifice had made possible.

If, by our suffering, we can cooperate with Christ in the salvation of the world, surely the Blessed Mother, forced to witness the brutal death of her sinless, divine Son, should be the preeminent cooperator. This is what Simeon prophesied, and why Catholics name her Coredemptrix.

Why should Rapunzel's tears make her Beloved well again? Why should suffering heal? How is it that our suffering and, primarily, that of our Blessed Mother can work good in the world? Because it makes us like Christ. When we suffer willingly and in a good spirit, not seeking it out, but accepting it when it comes (and it will come), we hang ourselves on the Cross with Christ, which is exactly what he told us to do: "Take up your Cross and follow me," (Mk. 8:34). Thanks be to God, "as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too," (2 Cor. 1:5).


  1. If I ever see this movie with my grandkids I'll use your post as a template.

  2. That's wonderful to know, and flattering. I just found it such a powerful image for Our Lady's mediation of Christ's redemptive sacrifice, and the way that that supernatural reality is symbolized in real life by a husband and wife.

  3. EXCELLENT! Thank you so just summed up the entire reason this is my favorite movie ever. Amazing.

  4. Thanks for commenting! And for the wonderful compliment. I hope you got to check out the other post on Tangled I did about the same time.


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