James Tissot (1836–1902), “Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus”
Empires come and go, but the Catholic Church remains because she puts her stock in the “little guys” of the world — those who are faithful even if they are not successful, and are successful because they are faithful.
Not long ago I finished re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Why is this such a great masterpiece? Not only because Tolkien spent his whole life writing and re-writing until it was perfect, but because of its deeply Catholic themes.
The main theme throughout the whole book is the triumph of the little one. It strikes me that Lord of the Rings is so successful and will endure as a great work of literature because, at heart, it shows the gospel triumph of the little one.
This is so intensely Catholic because, despite all the grandeur and glory that is Rome, the Catholic Church still essentially celebrates the triumph of the common man, the glory of the ordinary and the victory of the “loser”.
Christ the Carpenter calls Peter the Fisherman and together they conquer Rome. This is the message of the little man from Argentina who is now the successor of Peter. This is why he goes to the poor and ministers to the weak, because in them he sees history’s winners.
This is why John Paul the Great sided with the oppressed and the downtrodden and saw them triumph over Nazism and Communism.
This is why empires come and go, but the Catholic Church remains — because they put their stock in the Frodos of the world — the little people who are faithful even if they are not successful and are successful because they are faithful.
This theme of the triumph of the “little guy” is not only Catholic, it is universally human. Every human being everywhere and in every time period has understood the threat of Mordor — which is the threat of the “big guy” — the bully who has all the loot, all the muscle and all the connections.
Every ordinary person in the world understands what it means to be little, to be lost, to be insecure and to be burdened by the weight of evil projected by the “big guy.”
Lord of the Rings is universal, world class literature because of these truths, and in a world where we are reminded time and again of the threatening triumph of the “big guy” we can take hope in the saga of the hobbits and the quest of Frodo and Sam, knowing that in the end the little guys who are faithful to the end win.
They always win.