From Our Pastors
At a decisive point in the epic JRR Tolkien trilogy “The Lord of The Rings”, the diminutive and unlikely hero, Frodo muses, "I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."
Frodo is sharing his apprehension with Gandalf, the good and wise wizard and leader of the band entrusted with destroying the too-powerful and ultimately evil ring. Frodo is the youngest and smallest of the band that becomes the fellowship of the ring and yet he is the one who finds himself the ring bearer.
The conversation between Frodo and Gandalf takes places when the fellowship has stopped deep in the dark mines of Moria because Gandalf cannot decide which of three possible routes will lead them out. They are at a crossroads with no clear way to decide.
The Lord of the Rings has been consistently named one of the most popular books of all time, perhaps in no small part because the protagonist is someone we can identify with: a regular person caught up in difficult times with tough decisions to make and a heavy burden to carry.
Maybe there have been moments during this pandemic when each of us has felt like Fordo. With the months of the pandemic ticking by and a second round of infections and restrictions in NYC we find ourselves at a crossroads, perhaps not entirely sure what path to take and feeling a little overwhelmed.
It is hard not to see a parallel in Frodo and the young version of the author Tolkien himself. Though born in South Africa his mother moved to Birmingham, England when he was a young boy. Not long afterwards his father died before he could move to join his family. Alone in England, Mrs. Tolkien converted to Catholicism, to the consternation of her relatives, and attended the Birmingham Oratory.
The young Tolkien’s life was upended a second time when his mother herself died. When she was dying, she appointed Fr. Francis Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory as her children’s legal guardian. He took his role seriously, paying for their education, providing housing and generally seeing to their welfare and upbringing.
Could Gandalf’s advice to Frodo be an echo of a conversation between the young Tolkien and Fr Francis?
Gandalf responds to Frodo’s wish that “none of this happened;” and that this fate “had never come to me,” with the advice: "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.”
None of us would choose to be living and working through a pandemic. And yet here we are. What will we do with the time given to us?
Fr Morgan was a member of the Oratory founded by the Oratorian St John Henry Cardinal Newman. No doubt he and the young Tolkien would have sung the verses of the famous hymn penned by Newman: “Lead Kindly Light.” It is hard not to hear an echo of Gandalf’s advice to Frodo in its lines. Perhaps it can be of some encouragement to us as well.
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Fr. Mark Lane, C.O. and Fr. Michael Callaghan, C.O.