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Alyssa Azul Faith Formation Ink Slingers Relatable Vocations

A Heroine’s Journey

When I grow up, I want to be a mermaid.

That was my dream at five, immortalized in the pages of the kindergarten class scrapbook.

My parents would tell you that I had an unhealthy obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid, based on countless rewinds of the VHS tape, and hearing “Part of Your World” on a never-ending loop throughout the day.

If I could ask the child version of myself why Ariel was my hero, she would probably say, with the tiniest smirk on her face, “because she’s pretty.” Twenty-four year old me winces.  Ariel was a naïve teenager who rebelled against her father and put herself and her friends in danger. All for what? A boy? 

Yet, we can’t deny that the story was appealing. Disney princesses tend to dream of worlds away from their current realities. Ariel’s fascination with land had begun when she started collecting human paraphernalia from shipwrecks. She had developed a deep yearning to visit the surface. Seeing a human male in the flesh, Prince Eric, sealed the deal. But alas, as the daughter of King Triton, her options for escape from her reality as mermaid were limited. Ariel knew she had to find a way to be presentably human, even if it meant quite literally, making a deal with the devil (sea witch Ursula). 

We like heroines who bend and break the rules. We are captivated by women who defy the narrative and do not always do as they are told – sometimes going as far as sacrificing a part of their being. Heroes must make ultimate sacrifices in order to achieve the highest goal. If men embark on a journey to discover what it is that makes him human and masculine, then what can a heroine’s journey lead to? What makes us feminine? 

In her book Go Bravely, Catholic speaker and author Emily Wilson Hussem says, “I have found that bravery is the main component required for living as a young woman of faith in our world today. If you want to live virtue and proclaim a wholehearted faith in your words and actions, you have to be bold. You have to be brave.”

Authentic femininity requires fearlessness. So even heroines in secular stories might teach us something about being a woman in pursuit of her destiny in the face of setbacks.

Take Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries for example. Mia Thermopolis is another free-spirited teenager – but this one hailing from New York City.  It is discovered that by birthright, she is next in line for a life of service to a country that she has never been to. She struggles to adjust and prepare, with seething resistance to fitting into the role of a princess. An arranged marriage would surely be in her future. The idea of being put into a ‘box’ that has been created by generations of people before you has to be incredibly daunting, especially for a 15 year old. A decided future or fate incompatible with one’s present values might be a common fear or burden for women and men alike.

Like Mia, Ariel is a royal daughter. She is reprimanded and expected to behave with a level of propriety, which is a lot to ask from a rebellious teenager (er, mermaid) in love. So she sneaks away, chasing adventure, even if danger lurks around the corner. Ariel’s dream, after all, was to live life on land as a human. To do that, she had to sacrifice her most treasured talent, her voice, in exchange for legs, ie. her freedom. All this for the chance to woo Prince Eric. Careless perhaps, but laudable for what it was worth. We are allowed to desire true love, you know.

Pursuing our destinies will almost always be met with resistance or hardship. We will have doubts about whether it is even the ‘right’ calling. We can’t know what that is for certain, but it is better that we have the courage to seek for ourselves rather than to remain trapped by our circumstances. Emily Wilson is correct – bravery is necessary to leading a purposeful life.

Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet is a heroine we see contend with social conventions of women in the Georgian period in Pride and Prejudice. Her defiance against expectations of love, marriage, and success is impressive, which is typical of Austenian protagonists. Elizabeth was not one to hold back her thoughts, and was often prepared to respond to naysayers – some might even say she made sport of it. Her stubbornness suited her when it came to holding herself with dignity in the face of family pressures and condescension. She was repulsed by the idea of marriage as one of convenience, duty, and political or financial gain. In her world, a marriage for love would be considered a ‘privileged’ dream. Still, she wasn’t going to settle for anything less. Characteristic of many heroines, Elizabeth was willing to sacrifice all social approval and marriage prospects to uphold her own values and protect the people she loved. Was she emotional throughout her journey? Absolutely. She expressed pride, sadness and anger in standing up for herself and her family, and wasn’t afraid of the repercussions of her confrontations. Elizabeth often disarmed those she came across – her mystery being a source of interest for a gentlemen of equal stubbornness and intelligence.

With these heroines we notice a trend; they pursue their dreams, and as a consequence, unlock their freedom. There is often self-discovery and inner healing of sorts that occurs on the journey. Women need the space to be individuals to discover their talents and what bring to the world. As a child, dreaming came like second nature. It seems that as we got older, we either lost that ability, or we simply gave up. We postpone these dreams, which are beautiful and creative expressions of our deepest desires. We can inhibit our own growth by not taking care of these things written on our hearts. In the larger picture, our calling is God’s great dream for us.

Now picture this reality: every young girl will grow up to be her own heroine, starting with a dream. She will discover who she is and what that means for the world. Her journey will involve cultivating strength, intuition, emotional receptivity, intelligence and creativity – all characteristics natural to women which St. John Paul II calls the “feminine genius”. How they’re expressed and lived out looks different on each of us, and that in itself is a gift to others. When women embrace these characteristics, they reveal the Divine, and the mystery of God. Formation of self is key, and who we become along the way is just as important, if not more than reaching our goals. We shouldn’t forget to honour our emotions, which are often seen as a weakness. It’s these emotions and instincts that allow us to make unparalleled sacrifices for others. 

The journey begins with a dream, followed by the bravery to live authentically, ultimately nurturing ourselves towards a unique calling.

In the words of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

A Heroine's Journey
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Head over Heart: A Quarantine Story

This year so far has been a pilgrimage like no other. I think the COVID-19 pandemic knocked a lot of people out of commission in many different ways. My quarantine story as a Catholic throughout this time was beyond rough. I experienced a crisis of my interior life.

When the lockdown order hit our city, I still carried a rather positive outlook. The introvert inside me thrived for a time of removed distractions and reduced physical movement. Seeking to strengthen my interior life, I prepared to read more and pray more. I was virtually connected to a young adults ministry and we had a daily Divine Mercy Chaplet call to keep us in touch and steadfast in our spiritual lives. I was geared and ready.

It was difficult to ignore the fact that the Lenten season looked and felt different from past ones. Easter was not the same. I did not attend Stations of the Cross or the masses, and did not see friends and extended family. There was a sorrow in the atmosphere that ran concurrent with the passion of Christ, but I dismissed it.

During this time, the Catholic community seemed louder and stronger than ever. My fellow brothers and sisters were serving in the parish with technology, praying novenas, offering up fasts and so on and so forth. They appeared to be on fire with the Spirit, not letting physical barriers and social distancing keep them from completing the “Good Catholic” checklist. I did my best to attend all online masses, virtual conferences, prayer calls, and ministry duties, but the energy to keep my engine running slowly dwindled. Social media played a huge part in allowing everyone to keep tabs on each other’s “progress”. It became mentally demanding.

I wanted to feel good about myself as a Catholic, and like others, I wasn’t going to let the quarantine stop me from serving God. As I was checking off my list of “Good Catholic” duties, I started to feel a deep restlessness and sorrow within myself whenever I was completely alone. When the screens were off and the doors were closed, I couldn’t bring myself to an honest prayer, no matter how hard I tried.

I turned to distractions to numb myself from feeling guilty about being a mediocre Catholic. Everything I did was to avoid being alone with my thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, with Him.

I made every effort to lead using my head in faith, and not my heart.

By guarding my heart from the very real feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, hopelessness, and guilt, I guarded myself in my relationship with Jesus. What resulted was a severe lack of love for myself. The urge to hide myself away was strong.

Was I just completing the “Good Catholic” checklist to feel better about myself? What was I trying to prove? These kinds of questions fuelled what I like to call my mid-quarantine spiral.

Eventually two jarring realizations about authenticity in my faith resurrected.


I needed to be:

  • True to myself, and
  • True to God

Because the sacraments, conferences, volunteer services, etc. were so readily available to us before quarantine, it was easy to fall numb to the repetition and routines of participating in them. I was told by a wise person that we often use them as “band-aid” treatments for our wounds.

All of the above are tools that help us encounter Jesus, but we need to go beyond them to find ourselves so we can be ourselves with Him. In the midst of doing all the right things to pursue the greatest Love, we forget what it feels like to be loved. We forget what and who we are made for. We take the tools for granted and sometimes hide behind them when we are most in need of mercy.

It took missing those sacramental elements of my faith to realize that I needed to lead with my heart to find myself and Jesus again. I’m ready to accept that in some strange way, His plans for my quarantine were greater than my own.