I am a huge fan of fantasy literature and among my favorite authors is J.R.R. Tolkien, better known as the creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien described the creation of Middle Earth more as a discovery of a fictional world already in existence.
It was not until I started creating my own board game when I realized the truth in Tolkien’s words. My journey in making my board game was more of a discovery of a game already existent. I simply happened to be the one to uncover it.
There is a connection of Tolkien’s and my own personal experience to the truths of the Catholic Church. Truth is not something to be manufactured or fabricated. The objective truth of the Gospel—preached and housed in the Catholic Church— have always existed!
Jesus gave the honor and responsibility to his Apostles and Original members of the Catholic Church to safeguard, teach, and articulate the Truth for future generations until His Second Coming. Let’s examine some examples as evidence for this claim.
Jesus Entrusted Peter with Authority
In Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Humanity thrives on clarity of thought and stability in leadership positions. Jesus planted the seeds to the papal office with Peter. The Greek name for Peter [πέτρος] translates as “stone” or “rock”. God gifted Christianity [and the entire world] with the office of the papacy to be the authority in the matter of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit works in a special way through the pope to guide him whenever a moral truth comes into debate or question.
Evidence from the Didache
According to many scholars, this document was written around 65-110 A.D. This text is known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. When I read this document I was surprised to hear many Catholic truths proclaimed from such an early 1st century document. The Didache specifically mentioned the Eucharist in Chapter 9 and the sacrament of Holy Orders in Chapter 15.
Pope Pius IX on Papal Infallibility
The solemn declaration of papal infallibility occurred on July 18th, 1870. Pope Pius IX’s statement on papal infallibility related only to matters of faith and morality. Only in his office as pope could the leader of the Church speak with such authority. The Holy Spirit planted the seeds of papal infallibility in Matthew 16:18-19.
While the doctrine of papal infallibility may be a hot-buttoned issue, especially among non-Catholics, it does not have to be. Seeing the role of the Catholic Church as the guardian and teacher of truth and not the creator of truth was a notion that transformed my approach to this subject.
Tolkien’s discovery of Middle Earth, as a place already present, is like Catholic Church teaching as a truth existent for eternity. Our role is to discover anew how the truth of the Gospel may shape our daily lives!
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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!
This year has brought a seismic shift to our way of life. Political tensions and race riots added to the stresses caused by the pandemic. Despite, all the changes, my faith in God remained as strong as ever.
How exactly do you find strength and calm during horrifying news like the McCarrick scandal?
It’s okay to be frustrated, disgusted, worried, angry, sad, or any other raw negative emotion. I am deeply saddened by the abuse and corruption in the Catholic Church. But the Church is a reflection of the Incarnation— it’s both human and Divine.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1118, ”
The sacraments are “of the Church” in the double sense that they are “by her” and “for her.” They are “by the Church,” for she is the sacrament of Christ’s action at work in her through the mission of the Holy Spirit. They are “for the Church” in the sense that “the sacraments make the Church,”35 since they manifest and communicate to men, above all in the Eucharist, the mystery of communion with the God who is love, One in three persons.
Individuals who life fully in the sacramental life and leave they previous life behind transform from sinners into saints. Holy men and women allow and cooperate with God so intimately they in a sense become “little Christs”. Jesus, Mary, and the saints always draw me back to the Truth as taught by the Catholic Church. Here is an updated list ten holy Catholics you should learn about.
Venerable Fulton Sheen
Reading the works of the American archbishop helped me learn my faith in a clearer and more articulate fashion. His book The World’s First Love: Mary the Mother of God influenced more than any other work on deepening my relationship with the Blessed Virgin. He famously said, “Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live by its spirit, but by the example of those who live closest to it.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
Since receiving his book The Way as an unexpected Christmas present, this Spanish priest became a huge role model for me. Fr. Escriva’s practical advice and wisdom on work being a pathway to holiness helped me become not only a better employee, but also a better husband as well.
St. Teresa of Avila
Saint Teresa of Avila is a wonderful role model for how to clear out the clutter of fear and sin in my life. I even named my youngest daughter (Avila) after this Doctor of the Church. My spiritual life need not be at the surface level. Her spiritual work, Interior Castle, helps me invite God past the entryway of my “spiritual home” and into the recesses of my heart.
St. Catherine of Siena
Over the past year, I had the privilege and joy of acclimating myself with the teachings of this Doctor of the Church. In light of the recent clergy crisis, I oftentimes sink into despair as I think that a simple lay person such as myself has nothing to contribute or weight to affect the good of the Church.
Reading the many letters of Catherine of Siena proved to me that even the laity have the ability—and the charge—to holiness and call on Church leadership to be good shepherds to lead the flock faithfully!
St. Maria Faustina
Being my wife’s confirmation saint, I did not learn about Sister Faustina until we started dating in college. Along with the impact the Polish nun had on my wife, her Diary of a Soul proved helpful for my spiritual life.
As a lifelong Catholic, I always knew of God’s mercy, but her ability to articulate boundlessness of Divine Mercy and the Divine Mercy icon now have become staples in my spiritual life.
Growing up as a cradle Catholic, I am ashamed to admit I never heard of this amazing doctor of the Early Church. Since taking a graduate course on Christology and reading [enter book title], St. Athanasius’ intrepid stand against the most sinister heresy—Arianism—in the history of the Catholic Church always inspires and fascinates me! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read the sainted bishop’s On the Incarnation.
St. Pope John Paul II
The Polish pope overcome much adversity in his life: losing his immediate family members by the age of 21, living through Nazi and Communist regime, and suffering from polio at the end of his life.
John Paul II’s ability to suffer gracefully and his strong devotion and daily reception of the sacrament of Penance make him the perfect role model for faithful Catholics.
St. Francis de Sales
Although Frances was a bishop, his spirituality largely impacted the laity. His spiritual work Introduction to the Devout Life, remains as relevant now almost 500 years later.
St. Therese of Lisieux
Whether I experience doldrums or dryness in the spiritual life, reacquainting myself with the Little Way of St. Therese provides me spiritual nourishment to withstand those dry spells.
The simplicity of her spiritual helps to provide me perspective that I do not have to perform grandiose works to grow in holiness. Actually, that path it found through consistent prayer and trust in God’s will. I am thankful for her loving witness to trust in the Father’s Divine Plan.
St. Louis de Montfort
Every great saint has a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but arguably no other saint has written about the Mother of God with such clarity and beauty as Louis de Montfort. I learned about his books during a Marian consecration. True Devotion to Mary and The Secret of the Rosary are required items on your bookshelf. Re-re-reading both books have become a yearly tradition for me.
“[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.” — St. Louis de Montfort
Bonus Catholic Role Model —J.R.R. Tolkien
While the father of fantasy and beloved creator of Middle Earth may appear as an outlier in this list, the late Oxford professor strongly influenced and deepened my Catholic faith in recent years. His ability to teach truth without sounding preachy is second to none.
Reading his works sparks my imagination. When I found out that his Catholic faith permeated his entire life, even his writing, I too dove deeper into the pursuing the joy of the truth founded in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Memory is a profound thing. Certain images, events, and facts stick with us over time and become housed in our long-term memory. Remembrance is the act of recalling past events through memory. The Catholic Church’s sacramental life centers on memorializing events from the Gospels. For example, during the Last Supper, Jesus stated, “Do this in memory of me.”
When I taught New Testament at a Catholic high school, I unconsciously created a memory regarding the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. I united my love of literature with love of scripture by referring to Zacchaeus as “the hobbit of the New Testament”. Students chuckled at this provisional quip. The former tax collector was described as a short man who needed to climb a tree to view Jesus’ arrival in his town. J.R.R. Tolkien once described his creations as,
I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off.
Linking the minor character in Luke’s Gospel to hobbits helped forge a permanent memory of Luke 19:1-10 within me. In the years following this mnemonic device, I frequently recall the life of Zacchaeus and Jesus’ mercy whenever I see anything related to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Below are three things I learned from “The hobbit of the New Testament”
Persistence pays off
Zacchaeus could not initially see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Instead of letting his short stature prevent him from seeing the Messiah, St. Luke tells us, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way” (Luke 19:4).
Imagine a grown man scurrying up a tree or pole to see a local celebrity, politician, or other important figure. In today’s age of social media I bet someone would certainly go to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube over such strange behavior. Climbing up a tree indicates not the strangeness of Zacchaeus, but rather his persistence and recognition that Jesus was someone important! The short man in Luke is definitely a role model for me in showing that my faith life is a constant work in progress.
Jesus Chooses the Imperfect
Along with Zacchaeus’ persistence, the tale of the hobbit of the New Testament demonstrates that Jesus loves the imperfect and calls the sinner to follow him. Zacchaeus struggled to physically see Jesus among the crowd. he also had an occupation despised by his fellow countrymen. He was a tax collector!
According to Luke, the crowd hated Jesus’ invitation to Zacchaeus by stating, “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner (Luke 19:7)”
Personally, I need to be reminded that Jesus dined with sinners— the spiritually infirmed. I struggle with the sin of pride. I battle with being judgmental. Luke 19:1-10 gives me perspective that God’s love is ultimately above my total comprehension. God’s love is transformative as well. The “hobbit of the New Testament” was changed after his encounter with Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over,” Zacchaeus stated (Luke 19:8).
Do not let Limitations Prevent You from Growing
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus taught me spiritual growth is possible despite my limitations and past failures. Christ welcomed sinners and culturally ostracized groups with grace and forgiveness.
Oftentimes, I use my limitations—my low patience with my kids, my OCD, and struggles with pride—as an excuse to put off growing in my spiritual life. Zacchaeus’ transformation in the presence of Jesus gives me hope that I am able to change too.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Certainly that is true for his Lord of the Rings trilogy where the bearer of Sauron’s ring is the simple hobbit Frodo. Zacchaeus, like, the hobbits of Middle Earth, provided change in the course of the future—for sure my future!
Scaling a sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did not let the possible danger of falling or others’ perceptions of him stop him from gazing at our Lord. I ask for fortitude from the Holy Spirit to allow me to boldly seek Jesus just as the hobbit of the New Testament intrepidly sought after God.
I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” –J.R.R. Tolkien
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 20, 2019.
According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness.
Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.
Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.
Larger Piece of the Puzzle
Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope in solving the puzzle!
Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle. Without borders and helpers it’s easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.
Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism
Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. Mike Pacer writes, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope isn’t the same as wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not produce a placebo effect like false-optimism.
God gives us the gift of hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”
Heaven—the Final Frontier
Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!
St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!
O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 15, 2017.
St. Ignatius of Loyala said, “If God sends you many sufferings; it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” As a Catholic I admire the witness of the saints. From a theological and cerebral perspective Ignatius makes sense, but to a person in the midst of trials his words just bring frustration. I believe I am in a period of consolation at this point in my spiritual journey. As a result, my reflection on the Spanish saint’s words may take on a different form now than during a low point in my life.
What I have found to be interesting during the past few months that I have been writing is that my more popular and greater trafficked posts relate to topics on my sufferings: from my anxiety over daily items to my great tribulations in life so far. Today I believe there are three specific reasons why writing about my own limitations appeal to others.
Suffering is Universal
J.R.R. Tolkien refers to the objective reality of widespread sorrow in his legendary work The Lord of the Rings. Below is a brief conversation between the soon-to-be heroic hobbit Frodo and the wizard Gandalf:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
Before I unpack the truth of Gandalf’s words I will provide a little background on the nature of hobbits. According to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, hobbits are creatures that traditionally kept to themselves and stayed out of the political affairs of Middle-Earth. Hobbits enjoyed farming and living a quiet, peaceful existence.
Is that true of yourself?
Perhaps you are an individual that prefers solitary and silent times for reflection. If you are not like a hobbit that is certainly alright as well, but there may be times in your life when you may desire the craziness of life to slow down. I know that is definitely true for me. I am naturally a hobbit at heart.
Life always seems to throw a wrench into my plan. Just like Frodo Baggins’ life was interrupted by the War of the Ring and Gandalf’s strong urging to bear the ring, so too I experience expectations thrust upon me that I am ill-equipped to face.
Suffering is universal. It is inevitable. Humans do not have to travel long or far in this world before suffering rears its ugliness! This is the primary reason why I believe my writing on my personal suffering appeals to others—because people suffer daily.
Sometimes quotes from a fictional character seem to ring truer or strike a chord closer than words I can provide myself. Frodo’s best friend Samwise Gamgee sums up humanity’s worry against suffering best, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”We put ourselves into a paradox if we avoid suffering—we never step onto the road of life, but it is only stepping on the road that we are able to life. Avoidance of suffering is not fully living!
Honesty is the best policy
To continue on the fact that suffering is universal, I think that by truthfully acknowledging my limitations and sinful nature I open myself up to let others into my life. My favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, Francis de Sales, and G.K. Chesterton [to name a few]. Each writer admits their failings. I experience Lewis, de Sales, and Chesterton’s humanity through their writing.
In a similar fashion, I have noticed that my own personal favorite and best works are done when I am most honest—not when I utilize the best vocabulary or sentence structure. Half of the times, I am not even aware of what I am going to write about on a particular day or even how I am going to finish a post. Words flow from my mind more easily when I draw upon my experiences of suffering and strife. I cannot explain why that is the case. I can only say that my honesty about my past suffering acts as a cerebral embolectomy for my occasional writer’s block!
Fellowship Leads to Fitness in Battle
My battle against personal vices [anger, greed, impatience, pride, etc] is daunting. What makes my encounter with these evils more bearable is community. Through the fellowship of my family, faith community in the Catholic Church, and my readership I am soothed. I am reminded again of Tolkien’s trilogy during my personal struggles.
In the third book The Return of the King, weariness weighs down on Frodo as he ascends Mount Doom in his attempt to destroy Sauron’s Ring. Listen to the hero’s lament when the evil 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!
The main hero in the story experiences weakness and laments to the last individual from the original Fellowship formed at the beginning of the journey— fellow hobbit Samwise. Here a fellowship becomes incarnate in Sam. He is not the strongest, smartest, or most clever hero, but he is present in Frodo’s greatest time of need. It is only through Frodo’s donning of the ‘armor of weakness’ [making himself vulnerable and feeble to his friend] that true fellowship happens.
Instead of becoming weaker when I show my limitations and failure the fellowship around me [wife, family, faith, and friends] is galvanized and I am made stronger. Together a fellowship stands the test of temptation and vice.
January 3rd celebrates two important events: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and the anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a Catholic obvious the former has to take precedence, I mean Jesus is the center of the Catholic faith. However, I think it is ironic, maybe even providential, of the placement of the great English literary figure’s birthday within the season of Christmastide.
Creation Leads to the Creator
The famed creator of Middle Earth himself was a devout Catholic and belief in Jesus Christ permeated his entire life. I admire Tolkien because of his creativity, devotion, and ability to invoke joy into my life simply by reading his works or striking up a conversation with a random stranger about his life!
According to the Baltimore Catechism paragraph 215, Catholics honor saints because
“We honor the saints in heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God we honor God Himself.”
The excitement, peace, and joy I receive when reading, researching, or talking about Middle Earth ultimately is aimed at a higher reality. A deeper reality of full communion with God in Heaven! Tolkien once wrote, “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’.”
All of creation act as signposts pointing to God’s existence.
The same is true for the hidden or not so hidden Easter-eggs contained in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The date of the formation of the Fellowship—that is, the group of representatives of Middle Earth races—actually is December 25th!
The Little Way of the Hobbit
Much of Tolkien’s theology, whether he would have wanted to admit it or not, reminds me of the spirituality of The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her path towards holiness consisted of relying on God’s mercy and forgiveness while seeking ordinary daily actions to show love of God and neighbor.
The French saint wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Whenever I read and reflect upon that quote I am also reminded of the following words of Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Fantasy and Tolkien geeks now well that the bearer of the One Ring [the embodiment of temptation] was a hobbit. If only one word would suffice to describe a hobbit to individuals not too aware of this fictional Middle Earth race it would be diminutive. Littleness, at least in appearance, is the chief trait of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings.
Even the smallest person can impact the future
Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Tolkien recognizes that the smallest person can have a great impact on human history. The greatest event in human history is the Incarnation—God being man in the person of Jesus Christ in the form of a little baby.
I honor J.R.R. Tolkien today because his “complex”, extensive, and intricate sub-creation of Middle Earth provokes a sense of joy in the little acts done in great love and sacrifice. Ultimately, after reading any of his works, I am reminded to be grateful for creative genius not as a worship of the fantasy author. Instead, I honor him as he points me to the Real and Truth Author of All of Reality!
“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11