About two-thirds of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, all the forces of good gather for a council. Trouble is brewing, and they lay out the dangers they and their people are facing. The situation is dire, but there is hope. If someone was to destroy the enemy’s weapon – a simple gold ring of power that has come into their possession – evil would be defeated and there could be a lasting peace. But it’s an overwhelming task that is not only dangerous but seems to have very little chance of success. The council was silent until an elderly hobbit named Bilbo Baggins spoke up:
“Very well, very well, Master Elrond!” said Bilbo suddenly. “Say no more! It is plain enough what you are pointing at. Bilbo the silly hobbit started this affair, and Bilbo had better finish it.”
It was Bilbo who had found the ring years earlier, and to some degree felt some responsibility to see things through. While his offer was a heroic gesture, this quest is one that Bilbo is incapable of accomplishing. The wise old wizard, Gandalf, spoke in reply:
“Of course, my dear Bilbo,” said Gandalf. “If you had really started this affair, you might be expected to finish it. But you know well enough that starting is too great a claim for any, and that only a small part is played in great deeds by any hero…”
In the case of Bilbo Baggins, there had been epic battles between good and evil, long before he stumbled upon this ring in The Hobbit. He had a part to play in carrying the adventure forward, but it was now over. His nephew, Frodo, would carry it from here to whatever end might come.
The story of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins is a good one to consider at the beginning of our study of the YouCat (Youth Catechism). In the first article in this series, I suggested that one way to understand the first part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘The Profession of Faith,’ is to look at it as the great story God has been unfolding since before the beginning of time. In the YouCat, this section is titled “What We Believe.” Here, our beliefs are explained in the context of the Creed we pray each Sunday. This not only summarizes what we believe as Catholics, but it also expresses our understanding of who God is and His actions throughout human history. We can see this in most clearly in the articles that deal with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
When we say “I believe in God,” we are not simply acknowledging the existence of a higher power. Christianity believes that God is the creator, origin, and source of all things. All of human history was put into motion by the creative action of God, who creates everything with order and a purpose. We see this not only in the created universe around us, but also in the existence of every person including you and I. Pope Benedict XVI said that “Each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” In other words, each of us is supposed to be here as we have each been created to play a unique part in the great deeds of human history. Finally, we believe that God has revealed Himself to us – we can know Him – and from the very beginning of humanity, we have had the opportunity to live in relationship with God.
Then, to say that we believe in Jesus is to acknowledge the ways in which the whole human story has been a battle between good and evil. While on the day that God created us, He said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But it wasn’t long until humanity fell into sin and wandered far away from God. We read about God’s interventions in human history throughout the Old Testament. There, He invites us into covenants, but humanity is unable to live up to our side of the covenant. In the midst of our failure to love God in return, we begin to see just how much God loves us. While we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), God still sent His Son that we might believe and have eternal life (John 3:16).
Finally, to say we believe in the Holy Spirit is to recognize that God’s actions are not simply in the past. God continues to work through the Church and in the lives of individual Christians. The difference between the Apostles on Holy Thursday (fleeing for their lives) and on Pentecost Sunday (launching out to tell the world about Jesus) is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them in the Upper Room. In the same way as He once inspired them, the Holy Spirit inspires us, strengthens and changes us, and dwells within each of us. Regardless of whatever great deeds or small deeds we are called to, we are never alone. The Holy Spirit is the way in which Jesus keeps His promise to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).
When we come to understand what we believe – that God has created everything (including each of us) on purpose, that His love for us knows no limits, and that He never leaves us alone – we begin to realize what it means to be part of this greater story. In doing so we can begin to seek out our place in the story and, with the same sentiment Bilbo expressed in The Lord of the Rings, we can look for ways to embrace the adventure regardless of the risk or danger that lies before us.
“You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing.” -Pope Benedict XVI, Foreword to the YouCat.
-Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camps director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.