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If man can't live on bread alone, a salad won't help...unless he's Tolkien

I got back home rather early from the lab today, having finished my work and cleaned up rather quickly. A young couple (older than me, but still pretty young) got on the train at one of the first stops. They seemed pretty unhappy. I couldn't help but overhear them flipping out. At first, they started getting angry at the mere fact that they got on the wrong train. Then they started getting angry at the conductor before the poor guy even had a chance to help them out. Soon after directing their anger at the conductor, they moved onto the next eligible scape goats: EACH OTHER.

I am assuming that they were a couple considering some of their mannerisms and the fact that my people-watching senses are quite accurate these days (when you have nothing to read on the train and you take a train to and from school each day, you tend to start people-watching...oh the joys of PhD student life). To make a long story short, instead of simply letting things go...or blaming the situation on a simple mistake...or just simply trying to think things through, they started blaming everything on each other. They started getting angry with each other, as each blamed the other for this incident and everything leading up to this incident. By the time they got off the train, some very insincere words had been tossed back and forth. I would have tried helping them or at least helped talk things through with them...but chances are, they would have made me the new scapegoat. I think, in a sense, that's all they were really looking for when they started arguing. They had stopped caring about finding a solution or simply accepting a mistake...instead, they had merely sought instant gratification by bringing someone else down.

It wasn't my fault. The other person had made the mistake. I always have to fix things because that other person never knows that they're doing. Screw it, I'm done with this because not matter what I do, this other person always ruins things. Obviously, I'm not the problem. The problem is insert name here. Clearly, they're the ones that keep messing things up.

After watching this argument unfold, I got off on my stop and did what any reasonable person in my place would do. I went for a walk. Hey, there's a reason why the Fellowship of the Ring walked to Mordor when they could have easily just asked a bunch of oversized eagles to give them a ride from Elrond's place. Walking is great exercise and it does wonders for your mental as well as physical health (just ask any hobbit, elf, dwarf, wizard, or man of Gondor). Geeky Lord of the Rings references aside, my place is 1.5 miles from the train station and on a nice day like this, there is nothing like a walk to clear my mind or just help me stay healthy. The street I live on is full of life (shops, cafes, restaurants, etc) which adds a lot of nice sights to my walk from the station to my I simply started walking.

I remembered that I had found an extra $6.00 on my old Starbucks card that I then transferred to my Gold Card that I debated back and forth as to whether or not I wanted to get some coffee. My grumbling stomach won and I found myself at Starbucks reading a book and sipping at my coffee (I am so ashamed of my Starbucks addiction....).

In walks a rather uniquely-dressed individual (in a good I'm all for creativity). She meets up with a woman (who looked like a combination between a census taker and the woman who's in charge of all charity events at the local church) who is already sitting there. They start talking and, before I know it, I find myself sitting next to what either seems to be a therapy session for a starving soul. This woman starts railing on her church (for the record, not Catholic) and its inability to reach her. She goes on and on about how the congregation is mostly (insert nationality/color/etc here) and how it doesn't cater to her spiritual needs.

At this point, I am feigning all interest in my book and I am eavesdropping like Samwise Gamgee when he's "trimming the verge" and listening on Gandalf and Frodo (sorry, another Lord of the Rings reference I had to get out of my system). She complains about how she's had to make salads with her congregation every Sunday (Salads, really? Maybe she has a point here...) even though that's something that she could have done at home. She complains about how her minister wasted a few sermons talking about the job market, etc...when that's something she could have discussed with friends at a Starbucks. She describes a yearning for something that she is not getting at her church. Yet, I kept getting the impression that she wanted things to be done "her way." The church choir had to clap and sing loudly because that was "her way" of singing spiritual music. The minister had to talk about certain topics because that was "her way" of understanding God's plan. The congregation had to set up "her type" of committees to address "her problems."

All of the things she complained about seemed to go back to her and her need to change everything so that it could confirm to her own spiritual needs. It kind of reminds me of the whole train incident earlier where that couple kept arguing about who was to blame. Everyone else seemed to be to the blame for her spritual needs and problems....simply because she refused to either accept things, maintain some level of patience, or simply move on.

I was tempted to just give her a "40 days of Lent" spiritual guide that I happened to be carrying with me....or just give her my rosary to help her sort things out. Then I had second thoughts. Chances are, she would complain about my attempt to help her (much as she had complained about previous "therapists"). Chances are, she would not find the comfort that I find in these things because she seemed like the type that would not be happy unless everyone did things her way.

As Saint Augustine once said,"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

When you decide to follow God, you don't follow Him for the sake of finding a congregation-full of scapegoats or complaining about the manner in which things are done. You follow God to love Him, adore Him, and serve Him. I think the woman at Starbucks was missing the whole point about some of the events she had participated on (salads aside, because I cannot take this salad thing seriously) and the sermons she had listened to. She failed to think about the needs of her congregation as a whole. Perhaps the sermons about the job market were needed because most of the congregation was out of a job and desperate. Maybe the rest of the congregation found it easier to listen to Christ in silent prayer rather than loud singing and clapping. Etc. etc. etc. By the sounds of it, this poor, confused, and spiritually-starved woman spent more time complaining about her situation than she did truly loving God, adoring Him, or serving Him. Perhaps this is why her soul was so restless.

She had yet to find spiritual rest because she was letting her complaints drown out any words of comfort or love that God was trying to say to her. God listens to every need we have in our hearts and He has been calling for us since before we were even born. He has beckoned us throughout all history by placing this unquenchable yearning in our hearts. We want to find peace to quell this restlessness, but we need to find God first. Yet, we cannot do so unless we place God before our own wants. It's kind of like skipping to step 3 of the recipe every time we cook and then complaining why our cooking tastes like garbage. Well, duh...of course you're going to keep breaking your teeth eating banana-nut bread if you don't remove the shells first.

My point is, it is often necessary to humble ourselves before God to a point where nothing else matters but Him. If you do this, it won't matter if your church has pews since you will gladly kneel on cold, stone floors in order to prostate yourself before the Lord. If your church's electricity goes out, you will gladly worship in darkness since His light will more than suffice. No matter where you go, what church you attend, or what percentage of your congregation you dislike.... you should always find joy...even if God is the only source of that joy.

Icon by Brother Robert Lentz, Catholic Franciscan
Note: As far as I know, Tolkien is not officially canonized...but I'm sure there's people out there working on it

Now J.R.R. Tolkien, he understood this. Writings aside, he was extremely disappointed by the changes in the Catholic Church that occurred in his time. He hated the switch from Latin to English and he wanted desperately for things to return to what they were before. Did he stop attending mass because of this? No. Did he be become a lapsed Catholic? No. Did he tell off the Church and her leaders? No.

Tolkien loved God so much that he overlooked his own wants and simply kept attending mass....even if he did continue to loudly pray in Latin...much to the chagrin of his embarrassed grandchildren.

Pax Vobiscum


  1. This is a constant conversation that occurs where I live. The idea that complaining is somehow a "weakeness" in people. That complaining is in some way peoples inability to truly love God.

    I think you are right, that in the end we must have Joy which stems from a Pure Love of God, but that isn't mutually exclusive from being frustrated with the state of affairs in our local parish.

    The problem I have with the "let go, and Let God" approach is that I never hear a solution to what we do about the "bad" that does exist in our parishes. Is it there just as a test? Is it there as a fire to harden us? Must we never lift a finger against it?

    You said that Tolkein didn't tell off the Church and her leaders... you are correct, not the Church Triumphant... not THE HOLY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH... but his loud latin and his books were telling off the "church." The socio-political regime that did so much to try and steal souls away from God through its ignorance.

    There is a fine line between peace and pacifism and I think that before we discount all complainers as problematic, we need to make sure we understand the distinction there. The Devil wants us to be quiet, he wants us to look away from the carnage, he wants us to pretend as if nothing is wrong and that we are all going to be ok.

  2. You bring up some valid points and I agree. Not all complainers are a problem and there are usually quite a few valid complaints that should be addressed within a typical parish. I have nothing against these complainers, especially if they use reasonable means to address their issue. I mean, even some of our most famous and pious saints were known to rabble-rouse when necessary....while remaining steadfast in their faith and loving God above all else.

    However, oftentimes, this is not the case. People start losing sight of the important things because they start obsessing over the most trivial matters. These people drive a wedge between themselves and God when they let silly things like the color of the mass bulletin or the type of flower arrangements at the altar bother them. It's trivial stuff like this that I have a problem with....especially when it leads to people leaving the Church and/or abandoning God altogether.

  3. I understand your point and agree that your arguments are valid, and true.

    I just fear that there are many "empty seats" because of some matters that might seem trivial to some, but mean everything to the person that isn't there...