The sky had grown dark of late. To the east of the towering city set on a mountain, black armies of foul creatures mustered. A festering menace corrupted that land of shadows and was spreading westward to that of the good and free folks. From the gates of the shining city there burst forth like white fire a last band of stalwart warriors; at their head, an ancient and white-bearded wizard mounted on a thundering stallion, urging them on with nothing but resilient hope, however thin, in the success of an almost impossible mission dependent on the smallest and simplest of creatures. They clashed against the enemy upon their own dark gates and the battle for the salvation of the world began...
I sighed and put the book down. “Why can’t reality be as exciting as Tolkien?” I was 16 years old, and the book touched restless chords within me. Although I did not quite grasp it at the time, it was the restlessness of experiencing “the end of the world as we know it” and wanting to do something about it. It was an awakening desire to fight on the good side in this cataclysmic battle for the salvation of the cosmos.
I am now 27 and have three years to go —God willing— before I am ordained a priest. Now, in spare moments when I can squeeze in a few pages of Tolkien, the same question comes back to me, but in reverse: “Why can’t Tolkien be as exciting as reality?”
Looking back, the cathartic experiences of these books prepared the ground of my soul to hear the invitation of Christ to be his priest. In fact, I believe Christ used these emotional pulses to help me hear his call. He, being God and Man, has the most attractive, strongest personality. He is the archetypal hero, par excellence. So, the leap from a kid reading about fictional heroes to a kid following the greatest hero is not as wide as some would think. He can call whenever, whomever, and however He pleases. He’s God, isn’t He?
Take a look at the perils and values represented by the book, however, and you will find many relations to the real world. Seen without faith, the contemporary situation appears bleak. Suffering and confusion are rampant. Terrorists are active and hailed by some as heroes. Disease and hunger afflict many. The ever ominous nuclear threat bodes the self-destruction of our race.
Even if we manage to avoid these terrors and temptations of the world, plus the pitfalls of our own concupiscence, then a host of evil creatures is out to get us: Satan and his hench-spirits. Isn’t it funny how we tend to equate spiritual or that which is not visible with “not real” or “fantasy?” The truth is that there is a spiritual battle being waged for our own salvation and for those around us. Oh yes, the battle is real, all the more so precisely because it is spiritual.
Tolkien treats of war. We speak of struggle to grow in grace and conquer sin, because man’s life on earth is a battle and if we don’t fight, we’re toast (dead, done for, caput). And if we resign ourselves to doing nothing, we will leave a trail of “could’ve been” good works that “could’ve made a difference” or “could’ve had an impact”.
Tolkien hails heroes. The priest is the most transcendental hero nowadays. Think of the powerful good he does in the world, because he is wholly Christ’s; configured to Him by the sacrament of Holy Orders. Christ works powerfully through him.
• A Priest celebrates Mass – bringing Christ to hungry and wounded souls.
• A Priest hears confessions – bringing Christ’s healing mercy to restore souls.
• A Priest has a heart anchored in heaven with feet firmly planted on the ground. His eyes sparkle with an unquenchable hope because he knows that no matter how bad things get, Christ is Victor and King of kings.
• A Priest drives out demons through exorcism.
• A Priest gives the sacrament of the anointing of the sick – preparing those about to make the passage from this life to the next.
• A Priest has a unique insight into the problems of this world, because he has the light of faith and has cultivated habits of intellectual virtue.
• A Priest acts in persona Christi each time he administers the sacraments.
• A Priest is a special son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, crusher of serpents’ heads.
Tolkien’s adventurers always conquer the forces of evil, not without sacrifice, struggle and extreme suffering, of course. And so it is with the priest. He must give up many good things, but this, only to be capable of receiving the greatest—personal friendship with and apostleship from Christ.
These times are unrepeatable. Make history. Do something of eternal value with the time you have. Do not be afraid of Christ, he offers everything and takes nothing… Let Christ enter your life, and every day, every moment becomes a transcendental adventure of epic proportions. Why? Because He’s God and the salvation of many souls hangs by a thread.
And if, perhaps, He turns His gaze on you, looks straight into your eyes and heart and says, “Are you going to help me save the world or what? Are you with me?” If He offers you the supreme honor of being His priest, of being His stalwart soldier, of being His close and personal friend and ambassador, to heal the spiritual sickness of souls; if He asks you to bring the light and transforming power of His words to darkened minds and hearts, to turn them back to Himself; if He sends you out like a brilliant light into a land of shadows, to drive out sin and the foul beasts of the enemy in His name and by His grace and Divine love, to establish His kingdom in hearts; what will your answer be? Think carefully. The salvation of the world may just well depend on it.
Brother Michael Steele, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.