The Lord of the Rings movies are three of the highest grossing movies of all times, so it’s pretty likely that you’ve seen them. However, if you like epic books, then you should definitely read the books. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the books; there are three of them, and they’re all large, but it’s worth it. Take you time reading them, and really think about them. J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, but his Catholicism isn’t just right on the surface like so much Catholic media; it’s deep down in the fabric of the story and characters.
In the movies you can see the struggle between Frodo and the Ring, and they do a brilliant job of showing that struggle. In the books you get to hear what’s going on in Frodo’s mind during those struggles. The Ring wants him to put it on, because that will reveal his location and their plan to destroy the Ring. Sometimes Frodo exerts his will and overcomes the temptation of the Ring. Sometimes he falls to the temptation and the Ring wins. The really subtle part is that using the Ring can actually help Frodo get closer to his goal, which is reaching Mt. Doom and destroying the Ring, but each time it makes it harder and harder to resist and gives the Ring more and more control over Frodo. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when Frodo and Sam are in Mordor and getting closer and closer to Mt. Doom. As they draw closer it gets harder and harder for Frodo to resist as it has more and more influence over him. At one point he tells Sam to hold his hand, to keep him from putting on the Ring, because he knows that he can’t resist the pull of the Ring anymore.
This is epic fantasy literature, but it has everything to do with living out the faith in our daily lives. We have to remember that we’re in a spiritual battle against the ancient Enemy, Satan, “the accuser of our brothers” (Rv 12:10).There is another power, when which is more powerful than we are, influencing us and pulling us, but it can’t control us unless we give in. Sometimes we fall, and sometimes we don’t, but we need to use of our willpower and everything we have to resist. Ultimately, though, everything we have isn’t enough. We need help. We need the help of our friends, our brothers and sisters in the faith, and we need the help of a higher power, one which even the Enemy is powerless against. Think of what Gandalf says as he stands on the bridge of Khazad-dum blocking the path of the Balrog, a beast of fire and shadows, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass.” To me, that sounds an awful lot like the Holy Spirit who descended on the Apostles at Pentecost filling them with the strength and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Back in April I did my bulletin article on “Full and Active Participation in the Mass,” which is a phrase from the Second Vatican Council, and before that from the Liturgical Movement leading up to Vatican II. One of the main purposes of the Liturgical Movement was to encourage people to actively participate in the prayers and sacrifice of the Mass. Since the priest faced the tabernacle with the people, the Mass was in Latin, and many of the prayers were said too quietly for the people to hear, people could get the impression that the Mass is what the priest, and maybe the servers, do, and everyone else just has to be there. They encouraged people to buy daily missals so they could follow the prayers and readings of the Mass, to learn about the Mass, and to actively participate.
Vatican II recommended a reform of the liturgy to encourage full and active participation. The Council Fathers wrote, “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (SC, 11).
We might think that only the people who are lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, altar servers, ushers, etc., are actively involved in the Mass, but that’s exactly the attitude that Vatican II wanted to end. You aren’t supposed to sit there passively as the Mass happens around you; you should be actively praying with the priest and offering yourself with the Sacrifice of Christ.
Some people say that there’s no point in going to Mass if they can’t receive Communion. There may be many reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t receive. You may be allergic to wheat (the host for the Eucharist must be wheat bread). Maybe you haven’t made your first Communion yet, or maybe you’re not Catholic yet. Maybe you didn’t fast from food and drink (except water and medicine) for an hour before Communion, or maybe you have a mortal sin on your soul and haven’t gotten to Confession yet. In any case, you are still called to be actively involved in praying the Mass. If you do pray the Mass, pay attention to the readings and homily, and offer yourself with the sacrifice of Christ, then when you do receive Communion, whether you receive every day or go for years without receiving, it will be that much more powerful for you when you do receive.
The Lord God wants gave us the Mass as a gift, to draw us closer to Himself, and we are all called to participate fully and actively, no matter what our state in life or position in the Church, as the Council Fathers wrote, “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross’, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ [Mt 18:20]” (SC, 7).
Lately, I’ve been hearing the phrase, “follow the science,” a lot. For example, people have been saying that we should follow the science with regard to coronavirus. They mean that we should social distance from one another and wear masks when we’re out around other people, because these things make it less likely that you’ll catch the virus. However, they’re leaving out the fact that they’re also making a moral judgement that we should do whatever we can to avoid catching or spreading Coronavirus. Science doesn’t make judgements on what we should and shouldn’t do; it only tells us facts based on empirical evidence and experimentation. We then have to take those facts and make a judgement about them to figure out what we should do in this situation.
So, science tells us how Coronavirus spreads and which people are most at risk, our belief that every human life is precious leads us to do what we can to avoid spreading the virus, and our common sense tells us when we should take more or less precautions. However, sometimes different morals seem to come into conflict. In that case the science doesn’t change but our judgment might. For example, we believe in the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech, and both of these can lead to exceptions to the rules on social distancing. Let’s try to think about the decisions we’re making and what morals and beliefs are behind those decisions. We should definitely encourage people to take common sense precautions, but let’s refrain from berating and accusing people. Instead, let’s try to understand the beliefs behind one another’s actions.
Science can answer a lot of questions. It can tell us who, what, when, where, and how, but it can’t tell us why. Science can tell us about the world around us, but it doesn’t tell us why those things are. Science can tell us where the colors come from and how our eye picks up light reflected off of other things, but it can’t tell us the meaning behind a great piece of artwork. Science has it’s place, but so do religion and philosophy. Science can explain how the human body stays alive, but religion tells us about the meaning and purpose of life. Jesus Christ, after all, commanded us to feed the hungry and care for the sick (Mt. 25:31-46), but He also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).
We probably all have relatives who were raised Catholic but have since left the Church or simply stopped going to Church. This can be a cause of great sorrow, since we know the importance of the faith for eternal life and the joy that we have from living out the faith, and we want them to experience that joy and have hope for eternal life. It’s not up to us to judge anyone’s soul, because only God can read the intentions of hearts. However, the Lord did command us to “make disciples of all nations.” Where better to start than in our own families? Unfortunately, our own family members can be the hardest people to share our faith with.
We may be tempted to downplay our faith when we’re around these family members, so we don’t cause any uncomfortable situations. We don’t have to shove religion in their faces or beat them over the head with the Bible, but we shouldn’t hide our faith, either. Instead, we should just be ourselves. Don’t be afraid to talk about your faith, to pray before meals, or even to invite them to come to Mass with you, but don’t try to force it either. Simply show them that your faith is an important and natural part of your life.
Sometimes we encounter people who want to argue with us about religion, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be pulled into an argument. If someone wants to talk with you about religion and beliefs then don’t be afraid to share your faith. If they have questions you can’t answer, just tell them you’re not sure, but make sure to look up the answer and get back to them. When we argue about religion we start to feel like we need to win the argument. Instead, try to leave them with something to think about. Plant a seed in their mind.
Most importantly, remember to pray for them. When the Lord went to visit Martha and Mary, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him while Martha did all of the serving. Martha asked the Lord to tell Mary to help her with the serving, but Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42). We need to do the work of sharing the faith and witnessing to the faith, but we also have to do the “one thing necessary,” which is to pray. As St. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollo watered, but God provided the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). Only God can make the seed of faith grow in someone’s heart, so pray to him every day for your relatives and friends who are away from the Church.
When you read the lives of the saints you often find that they come in groups. You’ll have multiple saints in the same family, like St. Edwin of Northumbria, his wife St. Ethelburga of Kent, and their daughter St. Enfleda of Whitby, who lived in 7th century England and worked to spread Christianity. There’s also St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Saints Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea, and Saints Benedict and Scholastica, who were brother and sister. Saints tend to come in groups because holiness attracts holiness. All of these saints, whether they were family or friends, tried to help each other to grow in holiness. They weren’t perfect, but they encouraged each other to persevere in the faith and held each other to higher standards.
Saints pray for one another. St. Monica spent years praying for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine, who went on to become one of the greatest theologians in Church history. The legacy of St. Augustine is due in large part to the love and prayers of St. Monica. Do I pray for my family members and friends? Do I ask God to help them, to bring them to conversion, and to give them the grace they need to grow closer to God and persevere in the faith? I recommend praying a daily rosary and offering each decade for a different person or family.
Saints give one another prudent spiritual advice and not just worldly advice. St. Teresa of Avila recruited St. John of the Cross to help her in her mission to reform the Carmelite Order. This caused St. John of the Cross a lot of hardship and suffering, but it also helped him to become a saint. Do we try to help our friends to become saints? Not everyone can give spiritual direction but we can all encourage our family and friends to go to Church, to pray, and to seek to know and do God’s will in their lives, and encourage them to persevere when things get tough.
Most of all, saints let their actions speak for them. They give others a good example, like Saints Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order, and Clare of Assisi, founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, when St. Clare followed St. Francis’ example of leaving everything behind to follow Christ in poverty and absolute faith. I’m no St. Francis or St. Clare, but am I trying to be a saint? Am I trying to live a holy life? Am I trying to get to heaven? When we live in joyful abandonment to God He will use us to attract others to do the same.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.