In high school, I checked out Tolkien’s TheHobbit from the municipal library for the first time. I was a chapter or two into the book before I abandoned the work. “This is incredibly long-winded and includes boring descriptions. How could anyone consider this a classic of literature?!” I thought.
Five years and a master’s degree in theology later, I purchased a gold-leafed leather copy of The Hobbit at a local used book store. Perhaps I matured in my taste and knowledge of good writing. Or maybe God provided me the ability to make it through the verbose explanations of hobbits and their dietary preferences. Since my unexpected return back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, I developed a hunger for Middle Earth and his other literary works.
Being a cradle Catholic myself, I am actually a bit embarrassed to admit that I did not realize until recently that Tolkien was a devout Catholic. He evencalled his masterpiece “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” Whenever I read his writings, whether it be tales about hobbits or Middle Earth in general, Farmer Giles, or my personal favorite Leaf by Niggle, nostalgia for a deeper reality and a sense of wonder invades my heart, mind, and soul.
Tolkien’s Impact on Faith
Aside from the writings of spiritual greats like Saints John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales, and John Paul II, to name a few, no other writer has impacted my life as much as J.R.R. Tolkien. He inspires me to yearn for joy and realize that this life is a journey for the next. I would like to argue the case of the canonization of the great 20th century English writer using examples from both his writings and my personal life to demonstrate his impact on our pilgrim journey towards Heaven.
The canonization process is quite lengthy. After five years have passed since a person died, the Bishop of the Diocese upon which the individual passed away would need to petition the Holy See of Rome to start a Cause for Beatification and Canonization. This examination of the individual’s life is rigorous. Any miracles that are attributed to them are further scrutinized. Further information about this process may be found at the link at the end of this article.
Tolkien’s Strong Marian Devotion
Besides the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the communion of saints provide me the most consolation during times of despair. They testify to the truth safeguarded in the Catholic Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The term ‘communion of saints’ refers also to the communion of “holy persons” (sancti) in Christ who “died for all,” so that what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all” (961). J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings helped further my understanding of the Catholic faith and promoted teaching truth for all!
Cure for Despair—Love of the Eucharist
As imaginative and impressionistic, Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth is what stood out first for me is his thoughts about the Most Holy Sacrament. He said the following about the Eucharist:
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires (Letters of Tolkien, no. 43 pp. 53-54).
Food for the Journey
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1324 refers to the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Tolkien held this belief as well. “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion,” he wrote. The Eucharist was a fixture in his life. Tolkien created a literary equivalent to the Bread of Life in his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Elven bread known as lembas, provided nourishment for travelers. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee ate this food during their arduous journey to Mount Mordor to destroy the One Ring.
Fellowship Never Fails
Along with Tolkien’s profound love for the Eucharist and his implicit references to the Holy Communion in the Lord of the Rings, his focus on the importance of camaraderie—especially in suffering—is a Catholic tradition that he teaches believers and nonbelievers through his literature.
While Frodo bears the burden of carrying the One Ring, he did not lack help. In The Fellowship of the Ring the wizard Gandalf puts together a motley crew of four hobbits, two of the race of men, a dwarf, and an elf to sojourn across Middle Earth to destroy the Ring. At the end of the first part of the trilogy all hope appears lost when the fellowship is fractured leaving Frodo alone save for his friend and fellow hobbit—Samwise.
In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo more as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evilness of the ring tempts him:
Frodo: I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.
Sam: Then let us be rid of it, once and for all. I can’t carry the ring for you, but I can carry you! Come on!
Helping others shoulder their cross is the hallmark of Christianity. Cooperation in suffering pervades the history of Christianity. From Simon the Cyrene helping Jesus bear the weight of the cross up Calvary, to the modern day saints like Saints John Paul II and Maximilian Kolbe offering their suffering and death to alleviate the suffering of their fellow mankind, we are all called to a Catholic [a universal] camaraderie. J.R.R. Tolkien also reminds readers of this universal truth!
Teacher of Truth
A third reason why I believe J.R.R. Tolkien should be canonized as a saint is due to his ability to instruct without resorting to sounding preachy or judgmental. His short story Leaf by Niggle is instructive. It contains truths about the importance of our pilgrim journey on earth, purgatory, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
The main reason I enjoy Leaf by Niggle is due to the clear catholicity contained within the characters, plot, and symbols. Niggle represents everyman—humanity as an individual and as a collective. When I looked up the word “niggle” in a thesaurus, I learned that the name has synonyms which included: annoy, bother, discomfort, and anxiety. According to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church),
“On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified” (7)
Niggle also suffered various disturbances of his artwork while he was on a pilgrim journey.
Plan for the Journey (Beyond)
Tolkien’s The Hobbit also teaches us the importance of preparation. An unexpected responsibility of helping a group of dwarves upended Bilbo Baggins’ cozy life. So too living the Gospel sometimes shakes up our “perfect little world”.
While I fear the unknown, I gained a sense of peace and joy as I read the writings of Tolkien. I have also discovered during my interactions with fellow LOTR fans [friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and even strangers] that a true sense of unity occurs. I can’t quite explain it but I always leave a conversation about Middle Earth with a joyful twinkle in my eyes. Any of his works have this effect in me. In fact, I leave with a more compassionate heart towards others in general. He possessed an ability to unite divergent people through literature and the world. This quality hints at his overall holiness and love of humanity.
Patron Saint of Fantasy Stories?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s name has become a token (no pun intended) reference for everything related to fantasy and epic-storytelling. The more well-known Catholic saints include priests, bishops, martyrs, nuns, or theologians. However, the Holy Spirit does work in mysterious ways above man’s total comprehensive nature. Is it possible that God has used the fantasy world created by Tolkien to further belief in Jesus Christ?
According to St. Catherine of Sienna, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” Tolkien certainly followed his natural (and supernatural) gifts. As a storyteller, he brought the world an unexpected set of characters that gained universal appeal. I pray for the opportunity to see the canonization of J.R.R. Tolkien in my lifetime. His writings have deepened my Catholic faith and love for humanity and God!
and it is that time of year that we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Christmas is on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolves. Advent helps prepare us for having the hap-hap-happiest Christmas we could have. I’m hoping that this article will help you smile, as smiling’s my favorite.
Catholics and other Christians liturgically celebrate the holiday December 25th. The rest of the world celebrates Christmas anytime around Thanksgiving up until Christmas. This is what I like to call secular Christmas as opposed to liturgical Christmas. Does society know it’s not Christmas? It’s the only time during the whole year you actually hear secular society mention Jesus in song on the radio and in stores. As Bart Simpson reminds us…
‘Christmas is the one time of year when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.’
During Advent or Secular Christmas as Mary and Joseph are getting ready to travel to Bethlehem and the three kings of orient are journeying to the same place from the east as God places the Christmas Star in a far away part of the universe, other people in our time and place are preparing for the grand celebration of yuletide festivities by singing Christmas Carols loud for all to hear which is the best way to spread Holiday Cheer, and by going Christmas Shopping to support people who have to work in retail, and by watching Christmas movies and TV Shows.
Christmas movies help us get in the mood and spirit of Christmas by capturing our imaginations with grand stories of holiday merriment and wonder. And if you watch and take it all in and tie it to your faith, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! So let’s get ready to Deck those Halls and Step into Advent as God gets ready to send us his Hallmark Christmas Movie wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager.
As God is getting ready to honor Mary’s fiat, by developing a combo of man and God without mixing the two together in Mary’s womb and bringing Joy to the World, certain individuals who are lovingly creepy but smiley and nice are getting ready to combine two different holidays of giving. Say for example Halloween and Christmas. ‘What’s This?’ you may ask.
Preparing for Christmas can be Scary
As I said above, the holy family is preparing for their trip to Bethlehem and will later plan their trip to Egypt. Families are usually preparing their kid’s Christmas Vacations, but COVID has brought a halt to the usual kid’s vacation plans. Still some people are
still busy getting stuff ready for that grand Christmas dinner
getting ready to buy that surprise swimming pool for the family
planning on kidnapping your scrooge-like boss who didn’t give you that Christmas bonus for the pool you are planning on buying
preparing to do battle with obnoxious relatives and rouge squirrels
getting ready for perhaps a surprise visit from the SWAT squad after the kidnapping of your boss
planning a hike out to the forest to find that Christmas tree
This is best exemplified in the film ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’
As we get ready for grand celebration of Christ’s birth, angels from realms of glory are getting ready to earn their wings by helping humans on earth. Sometimes they are allowed to grant grand interdimensional visits to another reality.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” when Christ is Present
As the three kings of orient are trying not to get lost, a bunch of Catholic priests are trying not to get lost while Christmas shopping in a department store during the shopping season. It’s easy to wind up lost in the lingerie section, which would be embarrassing for the priests.
Find holiday humor in the Father Ted Christmas episode “A Christmassy Ted”
As we get ready to prepare a fitting place for Christ in our heart, the King Herods of the world are planning chaos and destructive acts to disrupt the arrival of Christian love and peace. This is especially true of men who are greedy and want to use the occasion of Christmas to terrorize and steal. But as the shepherds guarded the Christ child, so did a NY city cop help protect and save Christmas partygoers trapped in a building seized by terrorist thieves. And up at the North Pole a Majors TV legend helped fend of terrorists trying to steal Santa’s workshop of toys.
Those of us who know DIE HARD is a Christmas movie are so over the argument. We just go about our lives and drink eggnog and watch DIE HARD in December, and we don’t give a rip who has Objections. -Deacon Steven D. Greydanus
These are really Christmas movies!
The innkeeper was planning for the census rush and was not as prepared when the couple which included a pregnant woman came to his inn and wanted in a room. As the innkeeper helped to set up the stable suitable for an incarnated God to come as a baby, in other places, children geniuses set up their homes to thwart less lethal thieves from breaking into their home and stealing their earthly goods. The traps and devices are designed only to hurt and maim but not utterly destroy with death.
How to Spend Your Christmas “Home Alone”
As the wise-men were planning their trip back and forth across the middle east they were eventually contemplating how to deal with nasty king Herod. Small towns were also busy planning for Christmas and would eventually contemplate what to do with vicious nasty little monsters who have infected their town like Tribbles.
Beware the Grim Gift of “Gremlins”
As God was getting ready to give his Son to the world, Santa was also busy getting ready, by loading up his sleigh and finishing the last batch of toys to put into it for the Christmas eve dash around the world in his sleigh, The Little Saint Nick. The master toymaker made sure he included in his sack…
a Buzz Saw Louie,
a Turbo Man Action Figure,
a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle,
water pistol that shoots jelly with a gift certificate to the Jelly of the Month Club
an Oscar Mayer Weiner Whistle
a moose mug
bunny outfit and
· A woman’s leg lamp
Besides getting ready to go around the world, Santa is also planning on going to court, after an altercation with someone at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He now has to prove he is the real Santa. But he can’t use Christmas magic in front of others.
Seriousness of The Santa Clause
As all this is going on, Santa’s number one fan travels to New York to spread Christmas cheer.. Santa’s little Buddy was hoping to go to Pine Tree, Vermont to put on a Christmas show and experience a White Christmas, but off to NY he goes. He was willing to make the sacrifice of giving up his dentistry practice to do this task.
It was tough traveling such a distance from the North Pole. This honoree elf had to get by the dreadful Cotton Headed Ninny Muggin Snow Miser who whips up storms every time Santa tries to leave the north pole. Santa is also prepping his special magical train to pick up various children for a special visit to the north pole.
This is exemplified in the films Elf and The Polar Express and several others mentioned above, hidden in XMas easter eggs.
As Herod gets ready to take the life of the newborn king of the Jews, a misunderstood loner was getting ready to steal Christmas away from the annoying citizens of the town near where he lived. He eventually had a change of heart that grew in size, unlike Herod who had his heart grow to stone.
Grow Your Cold Heart with “How the Christmas Stole Christmas”
As the angels get ready to sing to the shepherds and announce the arrival of a savior, 3 ghosts get ready to visit grumpy, pessimistic and miserable people who once loved Christmas but have grown cold in their love for the holiday and other people.
This is best exemplified in any version of ‘A Christmas Carol’. One of my favorites of recent years is Scoooged in which Bill Murray prepares his network for the airing of A Christmas Carol LIVE on Christmas Eve.
As secular society gets ready to tell all these wonderful stories of Christmas, a group of school children gets ready to re-enact the true story of Christmas in one of the few mainstream stories to actually give the real meaning of Christmas.
A Secular Christmas Story: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
And as we reflect on the words of Linus as he explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, we can get into the spirit of getting ready for the coming of the Lord by watching movies and relating them to the spiritual realities of our Catholic life.
Remembering the first Christmas is best exemplified in the film ‘The Nativity Story’ and ‘The Star’
Mary did you Know… your life would one day be in a movie?
Editor’s Note: Matthew Chicoine interviewed John Kraemer via phone call on December 3, 2020. Some of the questions have been rearranged and edited to provide the best reader experience without losing any of the integrity of the answers given.
How the Lego Project got started?
My first project begin in 2003 and featured at Christ the Good Shepherd Church. It wasn’t until I started displaying my churches during the Christmas season (in year 4) that the Project took off.-
How do you pick the specific Catholic Church to build each year?
It has been a church of my own design. I wanted to combine the elements of modern church while keeping to tradition. I try to show the happy medium between the modern and traditional.
I try to keep things as accurate as I can. I will blend some real world elements. For examples, I have included items from Rugged Rosary (Crucifixes and Statue of Mary).
What is your favorite Lego display?
The Christmas display is one of my favorite and most important displays.
I build the displays in mid-February. It takes around a couple months for about 2-5 hours a day. I usually take a break after Easter. I usually tear down the Church at the end of the year. I sometimes save the tabernacle and ambo for later use.
How do you find inspiration with creating the Lego Churches?
Until I sit down with the bricks, I’m not quite sure where the story takes me.
I’m always looking, studying, getting ideas for what’s around me. How are things set up? Placement is everything for me. I review my previous projects all the time.
Did you play with Legos a lot as a kid?
Yes, while my friends were building spaceships I found myself constructing buildings. Eventually it developed into me making churches.
How does your work inspire others?
One priest was building a Vatican City and he was looking at my work to get an idea.
The Project is a prayer because it is also a reflection of where we’ve been and where we should be. My thoughts for this Christmas is an end to the pandemic.
Tell me a bit about your devotion to Blessed Solanus Casey.
The qualities that attracted him to me was his learning difficulties. His faithfulness and obedience. I learned about him as he was from Detroit and my parents grew up in Detroit. Grandma grew up across the street from the monastery. One of her wishes before he died was to see Blessed Solanus canonized.
Why is the Mass is important to you?
When we participate in the Mass we are part of something else. No matter what storms or challenges we face when we make the Mass our priority he say Jesus is our savior.
John Kraemer is a Catholic out of Saginaw, Michigan and has been building his annual “Lego Church Project” for over twenty years. With a focus on disability awareness.
It was a joy interviewing John and his work about the Lego Church Project. To learn more about his ministry follow his Facebook page at The Lego Church Project
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2017.
G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage, I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!
The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!
God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!
The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.
I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.
While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!
My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.
Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.
I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”
I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God.
The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97,
What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.
I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.
The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.
Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.
We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.