The Catholic Imagination

My experience feeds my imagination, particularly when it comes to trial and suffering. I do spend idle time reimagining the experience as it could have been. Of course, this bordered on fantasy in my youth. The new screenplay adds a different setting, spiced with elements of dashing bravery, courage, and fantastical powers, delivering due comeuppance to the perpetrators, and justice for all. Such as the time when a school bully lays out some form of public misery on me. In the shame of the moment, my heart races to find a suitable retort, maybe a coarsely worded insult, maybe a well-placed left hook. Alas the only fight I would put up was a blubbering, feeble whine, followed by a hasty flight from the scene.

Over the next few brooding days of shame, my imagination works out the new third act, hones my response to its finest edge and delivers it, a dozen times over, to virtual applause, fanfare, and cheers. Having restored order and justice back into the world, I slink back to await the next bout of humiliation. I regret to say the pattern has not changed significantly in “mature” adulthood. Where the school bully has been replaced by life itself and the trials carry the added weight of responsibility and consequences, the best fight, in the moment, is patterned on that same blubbering, feeble whine and the best flight, on issue avoidance and retreat.

The Unassuming Hero

When I first read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I could gravitate, in deep symbiotic identity, to the character of Aragorn. I wanted to be like him…stoic, brave, charismatic, wise, and strong. There was no obstacle in the trilogy that he failed to get past. To rise from his years as a wanderer, to eventually be crowned King, marrying the beautiful Arwen – it was easy to identify with that character. It was, after many years, many re-readings, and many a podcast on the topic, that I realized that hero of the story was not Aragorn. Surprisingly, it was not even Frodo, the brave Hobbit, who carried the ring to its destruction in the fire of Mount Doom, but Samwise Gamgee, his unassuming, servant and gardener, loyal to a fault, simple and steadfast.

As Frodo and Sam get closer to their destination, the very environment seems to change to fight them, the air is dank with fumes. A darkness, with a will of its own, seems to bear down on them with each step and breath. Far from the soft, undulating, grassy meadows of their home in the Shire, they are now threading their way through maze like pathways, strewn with craggy rocks and bottomless swamps, filled with the dead. Pathways that seem to take them farther backwards than toward Mt Doom. Danger lies everywhere, by patrolling Orcs on the ground and the dreaded Nazgul in the air. Frodo, the ring bearer, is slipping into the dark will of the ring itself.

… firmly grounded, stable, and unshifting

As Frodo gets more bewildered and confused, burdened by the weight and will of the ring, it is Samwise who carries the day. Samwise does not indulge in flights of fancy, trying to change the scenery, or wishing for alternate circumstances, or praying for new powers and weapons, or preparing grandiose Machiavellian plots of trickery. He uses what is left of the gifts he has been given, to stay the course, firmly grounded, unshifting, and stable, persevering with a faith in the goodness of that mission, carrying the hope of all middle earth.

It took me all those re-readings to understand that this is the essence of the Catholic Imagination that Tolkien was trying to communicate. Samwise exhibits a willful surrender to the hope and goodness of the mission, with the faith that it is in surrender, that there is hope of success. The Catholic imagination is not idle flights of daydreaming, but willing this conscious surrender, in thanksgiving, to the Lord, for the circumstances given. The fight is not to change the circumstances, but to be firmly willing to do what is good, and true and beautiful, with my gifts, in precisely those circumstances. Therein lies glory redounded to the Lord. Amen.

[Readings: Col 1:21-23; Lk 6:1-5]

G K Zachary

I am G. K. Zachary and I write, with my family, about our Catholic faith at We believe that the Lord is continually refining us, through the simple events of our daily lives, our trials and tribulations, our fleeting moments of happiness and long-suffering sorrows. It is in those moments that we learn just how present He is in our lives, guiding us, comforting us, softening our hardened hearts. Thus, we feel compelled to write about what God teaches us, through these ordinary life experiences, in the humble hope it might lead you, through your faith, into that extraordinary eternal life in Him. May your life bear fruit for the glory of His name. Amen. I can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Radhika Sharda on September 12, 2023 at 9:39 am

    Well said. I read LOTR for the first time about a year ago so your piece was a pleasure to read. I did gravitate to Sam by the end of the story, and I’m glad you highlighted this here. His perseverance, loyalty and earthy realism were refreshing, and did indeed carry the day, even when all seemed lost. I like your observation that he is “firmly grounded” and shows “willful surrender” to the mission. And yes, our Catholic faith is not about “daydreaming” but firm and conscious surrender, grounded in Truth.

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