One of my favorite parts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the interplay and necessity of each character to defeat the powers of evil. Gandalf, the great wizard – who dies and rises again – offers sage advice and strength to others. Aragorn – the King who is to come again – leads and battles valiantly against the forces of darkness. You have a series of unlikely heroes in the woman Eowyn and the Hobbits Merry and Pippin, all of whom are responsible for the triumph of good in various battles throughout the story. But where this interdependence is most clear is in the story of the two Hobbits who are there until the ‘end of the world’: Sam and Frodo, who might as well be brothers. Without Sam, Frodo never would have made it to the steps of Mount Doom, as his care, loyalty, and companionship show themselves as invaluable throughout the story. As they reach the climax of the story, when Frodo can go no more, Sam carries Frodo on his back so that they can accomplish their purpose and save all of middle earth. You could say that Tolkien wrote all of these characters to need each other: without the others help, without the other ‘playing his part,’ the whole story would fall apart. Even Gollum, the pitiful, Hobbit-like creature, is an essential piece to the whole.
We turn today to the third section of YouCat, How We are to Have Life In Christ – in simpler terms, the moral life asked of us as Catholic Christians. Having examined the story (what we believe) and the ways in which God meets us in the story (how we celebrate the Christian mysteries), we turn now to our part. And our part is not trivial, excessive, or unneccesary… our part is an essential part of the story. God has been writing a story by which He has overthrown evil so that we might have life (John 10:10.) He puts us into the story so that we can share in that victory – although He loves and respects us enough not to impose anything on us. The life God gives is not offered haphazardly, but comes as we learn to live and love as God intended for us to. But before we look at the specific things God asks of us, there’s a very important thing to keep in mind:
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” –John 15:5
Jesus isn’t trying to patronize or insult us here, He’s just acknowledging what we see played out in human history (and recorded over and over again in the Bible) – we can’t play our part on our own. On our own, we tend to live selfishly, flounder in our spiritual lives, and it’s unlikely we’d be terribly succesful at adhering to any moral guidelines given to us by God, which is why we need His help. Much like Frodo would be helpless without Sam’s constant friendship, encouragement, Frodo would never have made it to Mount Doom, let alone ascended the steps.
Simply put: we need God’s help to be who He created us to be and to live as we ought to.
“If we were to rely on our ourselves and our own strength, we would not get far in our attempts to be good. Through faith we discover that we are God’s children and that God makes us strong.” -YouCat 279
We call this strength that God gives us “Grace.” I can’t emphasize enough how important God’s grace is in any attempt that we have to play our part in the story. Having seen the whole of what we believe and the different moments God comes to meet us, ‘our part’ is a living response. This response answers an invitation to live our lives according to God’s law – much of what has made Christians stand out throughout historyis the way in which we use moral law as a guiding principle for actions we might choose to do or not to do. And it is also one of the primary ways in which others come to see and know the God who loves us all:
…the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal.” (Pope Paul VI, On Evangelization in the Modern World)
Next up: The Dignity of the Human Person.