By Brother Damien Price
I would love to have met JRR Tolkien. The author of The Lord of the Rings created a powerful story of good versus evil. A daily massgoer, Tolkien used his archetypical heroes to teach us all the simple but powerful message that good will triumph over evil and that the warrior in the midst of that battle is often small, seemingly powerless and often afraid.
While I am not a Scripture scholar, I do know enough to be aware that every Old Testament Prophet shared a similar call. Firstly they did not seek the call to be prophet – they were invited. Secondly – the response was universal: “I’m too young!”; “I don’t know what to say!”; “I’m too weak!”; “Who me?”. But thirdly – there is a universal response from the caller: “Do not be afraid – I (Yahweh) will be with you!”; and from the called, “Yes I will go!”
So many great mythological figures and seminal stories of history and sacred Scripture have danced around a core story of good versus evil. That archetypical story of poor, small, insignificant Frodo making his way, crawling for much of it towards Mount Doom with every large, powerful force of evil thrown mercilessly against him and his loyal companions is quite powerful and known and loved by so many.
And who is by his side for the vast majority of the journey but Sam; the most unlikely of heroes; faithful, humble, loyal, generous and servant to his friend’s noble calling – and like his other hobbit mates – looking for the “second breakfast” to nourish them on the journey.
We all have Frodos and Sams in our lives.
When I worked at St Laurence’s Br Jack Cummins was such a man. Jack, like his idol – Fr Ferdy Parer ofm – loved to visit the St Vincent de Paul hostel at South Brisbane. There you would find Jack and Ferdy just sitting with the men, sharing story over a coffee, listening and being there for those tired by life’s journey.
Bob Boardman from Rosies, Ravina Waldren and her good friend Sister Kay McPadden both from Aboriginal Catholic ministry, Ciaron O’Reilly from the Catholic Worker community and Fathers Wally Dethlefs and Gerry Heffernan who have both worked with some of Brisbane’s most vulnerable people – all of these chip away at building the Reign of God often in the face of cynicism and obstacles that would often daunt the best of us.
But they get up, they ask the question, they challenge the voice of division, racism or exclusion and it is never about them.
What Jack, Ferdi, Bob, Ravina, Kay, Ciaron, Wally and Gerry and oh so many nameless ones share in common is a littleness in the face of apparently overwhelming adversity. They KNOW what Paul spoke about so eloquently in his letter to the people of Corinth (1 Cor 1: 23): “We preach a crucified Christ, to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Gentiles foolishness!”
The reality is far from a Hollywood soundtrack. But real-life Frodos and real-life Sams inspired Tolkien.
No doubt he met them in his mother, in the streets of Birmingham, the battle fields of Flanders and the halls of Oxford. He met them – they inspired him – he put pen to paper and he captured – oh so creatively and beautifully what life is truly about: a day-by-day, step-by-step, inner and outer battle to shout from the rooftops that love always conquers fear! And that love is at its best in littleness, in weakness and, yes, in the Cross.
If you live in Brisbane do yourself a favour and visit the Cathedral of St Stephen and just sit, up near the front, and look up and high above the altar you will see what Paul wrote about: the crucified Christ and the hope, the joy and the freedom that belongs to the Frodo and the Sam when we follow our noble calling.
Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace, St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.