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The Happiest Place on Earth

May 30, 2018


We live fairly close to Disney and frequent those gates as often as we can. The last few times that I have gone, I’ve taken advantage of some pretty avid people-watching there.

Disney Park Goers are a wide array of people: young and old, in a rush, meandering about, men and women, etc. They all come for one reason: play.

But there is something about theme parks and adventure and Disney World particularly that summons to an inner child that needs to be released. It beckons us into freedom.

There may be slews of people but all of those people come with the aim of leaving the outside world behind. There is no “work” here. And here we more quickly realize that the rules are there not just for safety but to allow for the greatest freedom possible. 

As you may well know, Disney is filled with rides, characters from their many movies, and even more than that…beauty. I have wept on the Kilimanjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom, during the movie Reflections of China in Epcot, and riding through the cultures of our world in the Magic Kingdom’s It’s a Small World. Beauty always draws us into goodness and, if we are open to it, into Goodness himself. 

Isn’t this just like liturgy? Isn’t this just like the pursuit of holiness?

In Joseph Ratzinger’s The Sacred Liturgy, he says, “Children’s play seems in many ways a kind of anticipation of life, a rehearsal for later life, without its burdens and gravity…liturgy would be the rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life.”

The great liturgy is filled with moments of waiting for the next part, of preparation for the Eucharist…and a wide and general play on the greatest anticipation of the heavenly banquet when absolutely nothing else will matter.

When I venture into play—at Disney or even on my living room floor—I find myself immersed in a new world where the only absolute rule is love for the other and freedom of self-gift. My children ever remind me that they could be doing absolutely nothing and it would be the most fun because I am there, giving of myself entirely.

The best part of a full Disney day is leaving the park after the fireworks and waiting in the seemingly endless line for the ferry or the monorail. If you look around, you can see crying babies (and adults sometimes) and exhausted faces; but more often than not, you can see a heart full of leisure and completely satisfied in the freedom of presence and self-gift. 

Play—or better yet, leisure—reveals a deeper anticipation for freedom that is available to us interiorly through the love of God. This freedom isn’t devoid of rules or regulation but is filled with guidance on how to be the most free.

We must dive into the liturgy offered to us by the Church and into the echoes of liturgy that are felt in the leisure of daily life. Each of these share the ultimate goal of leaving the weariness of daily labor for an unending holiday and unending play, and being carried away into a divine abandonment into the heart of God—the ultimate leisure on earth being the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.