My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,
Walt Disney and those who build on his legacy have much to teach us!
A few weeks ago, I returned from Chaminade’s Senior Class Trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It’s the fourth such trip that I have been privileged to chaperone.
Over those four years, I have learned a great deal about the Walt Disney Company, which is arguably the largest, most well-known entertainment empire the world has ever seen. In fact, three years ago, Fr. Garret and I were one of the fortunate few to take a “Keys to the Kingdom” six-hour backstage tour of the Magic Kingdom. That tour certainly ranks among the highlights of my Disney experiences.
I’d like to share with you three simple ideas that, it seems to me, permeate everything that bears the name “Disney.” All three have proven themselves highly effective marketing strategies for the Disney Company. On an entirely different level, however, I believe that all three ideas have much to teach us about life with Christ.
When Fr. Garrett and I took that “Keys to the Kingdom” Tour back in the spring of 2013, our tour guide, Bea, reminded us over and over again of Walt Disney’s personal motto: “Everything speaks.” “Everything speaks” soon became the motto for Disney theme parks all over the globe, and every Disney employee – or “cast member,” as Disney’s employees call themselves – has been thoroughly indoctrinated in all the corollaries and consequences of these simple two words.
“Everything speaks.” Apparently, Walt Disney was a fanatic about details. (I knew that there was something about this guy I liked!) He understood that every detail of this theme parks – no matter how small – contributed to the overall positive (or negative) experience that guests would have when they visited, first, Disneyland, and later, Disney World and the other Disney parks throughout the world. The courtesy of the cast members, the cleanliness of the parks, the freshness of the paint job, the beauty of the landscaping – everything – every last little detail – mattered. Among the many fascinating stories we heard, Bea regaled us with one particularly telling tale about Disneyland’s opening day on July 17, 1955. On that day, Walt Disney and several of his staff members stood at the entrance to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. and distributed a piece of hard candy to each of the guests who passed through the gates. Shortly afterwards, Walt himself grabbed a tape measure and noted the distance from the park entrance to the first cellophane candy wrapper he found on the pavement – thirty feet. To this day, that’s the distance between trash cans in all five Disney resorts around the world.
“Everything speaks.” Everything matters. Because we believe in an incarnational God, we Christians know the profound truth of these two words. Nothing – no matter how ordinary, no matter how humble, no matter how “lowly” – lies beyond the reach of our loving God. He was born in a stable. His disciples were common fishermen. He seemed to have a special predilection for children, for outcasts, and for sinners. He changed ordinary bread and wine into His precious Body and Blood. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mathew 25: 40)
“This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what He gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.” (John 6:39)
Everything and everyone mattered to Jesus. They still do.
“Everything speaks.” As we heed the call of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis to embark on the “New Evangelization,” we would do well to remember that “everything speaks.” The kindness of our words, the thoughtfulness of our deeds, the inner truth of our actions, and even something as simple as the smile we wear all have an enormous power to draw our fellow men and women to Christ and the joy of the Gospel. As Blessed William Joseph Chaminade counseled, we are called to impart “a Christian lesson by every word, by every gesture, by every look.” (Constitutions of the Society of Mary, 1839)
It’s so easy to compartmentalize our lives and to exclude Christ from some of the yet unevangelized corners of our own hearts. But Christ wants to saturate our lives, to penetrate every last fiber of our being. And He won’t stop trying, no matter how many times we fail or fall short. He is always willing to forgive us, always willing to embrace us in mercy and in love. To Christ, everything matters, and so it must to us.
Disney’s entertainment empire stands as a testimony to the power of the imagination. From talking tiki birds to swashbuckling animatrons to dancing fountains and fireworks, Disney’s “imagineers” have mined the depths of their creativity to create a world in which the impossible becomes – well – possible.
Christ calls us to tap into our imagination and see the world though His eyes. It’s a world in which a woman known for her infidelity stands as one of the faithful few at the foot of the Cross. Imagine that kind of world – a world in which a man who denies Jesus three times in craven fear becomes the solid rock upon which Christ builds His Church. Picture a Church whose fiercest persecutor becomes its foremost evangelizer. Imagine five loaves and fish feeding five-thousand of the Lord’s followers. Imagine a God who loves us – who loves me – so much that He died on a Cross to redeem me from the power of sin and death. Imagine a God who rose from the dead, as a promise that we too would rise from the dead and enjoy eternal life.
Sometimes, I think, we lack religious imagination. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, however, empower us to dream big. And dream big we indeed must, because those dreams have a sure foundation on the promises of Jesus Christ.
I began this letter by recalling some fond memories of the “Keys of the Kingdom” Tour. Indeed, Walt Disney and his collaborators have built a vast kingdom – a Magic Kingdom – founded on the power of the imagination and their steadfast determination to create “the happiest place on earth.” With all due respect to the Disney Company, however, I would argue that we who follow Christ know of an even happier kingdom. It is Christ’s Kingdom – already perfect in Heaven, and reflected here on earth – however imperfectly – among all the inhabitants of the world, in our Church, and in our hearts. It is a kingdom in which everything speaks of Christ’s almost unimaginable mercy and love. The glorious mystery of it all is that the unimaginable has become not merely imaginable, but real. It is the sure and firm promise of life in Christ in this world and in the next.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Let us build the Kingdom of God right here on earth, right in our midst!
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers, peace and prayers,
P.S. As we work to build God’s Kingdom on earth, we pray for the grace to be strong and courageous. “Be Strong and Courageous” – that’s the theme of our upcoming college-age retreat. I’m very much looking forward to building on the energy, enthusiasm, and candor of our college-age retreat this past January. Our next retreat will be at Founder’s Hollow. We’ll leave from Chaminade on Tuesday, May 19, at 4:00 p.m., and we’ll return to Chaminade on Thursday, May 21 by 3:00 p.m. I hope that you will join us!!!!!!
Register by going to: https://docs.google.com/a/chaminade-hs.org/forms/d/1vIhuRzcfUyT48JNjghnzzuYqOHd9PZYqtF627GWqEJk/viewform