Twenty years ago today, the first of the Lord of the Rings movies, the Fellowship of the Ring, was released.
So imagine, twenty years ago, a slightly more nerdy version of Fr. Anthony — a teenaged Anthony Ferguson — was waiting very impatiently in line with my dad at the movie theaters to finally see the books I loved so much come to life on the big screen.
It’s hard to describe how much of an impact these movies made on me. They totally blew my mind. I still listen to the movie soundtracks regularly… Usually while writing my homilies, which explains why I sometimes get so dramatic up here.
But with all that said, as much as I love these movies — I do have a bone to pick with the way Peter Jackson chose to portray one of my all-time favorite characters.
I’m talking about Aragorn.
For those of you who are NOT nerds — Aragorn is the heir to the Kingdom of Gondor. He’s the guy who was called, from the moment of his birth, to come and reestablish the lost royal lineage. He was destined to take up the throne of Gondor, and be crowned king.
And in the books, Aragorn always knew this and fully accepted this. Aragorn always knew that he would one day fulfill his destiny, step up to the plate, and take up his rightful place as king.
But in the movies, if you’ll remember — this is not really the case. Aragorn is shown, instead, to be sort of waffling on his destiny. He doesn’t really want to fulfill his call. There’s one line where Gandalf says: “There is one who could reclaim the throne of Gondor” — and Elrond responds: “He turned from that path a long time ago… he has chosen exile.”
But that’s NOT what Aragorn did!
The real Aragorn, the virtuous Aragorn we find in the books JRR Tolkien wrote — was much more like Jesus.
The same Jesus, who in our second reading today, speaks the words of Psalm 40 — “As it is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
Behold, I come to do YOUR will.
That’s Jesus Christ, the pre-destined King of Kings and Lord of Lords knowing exactly who he is, what his task is, and freely coming to do God’s will. Coming to be obedient to the mission he was given from all eternity!
We catch a glimpse of this in that first reading today from the prophet Micah, where we hear that from Bethlehem “shall come forth… one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”
Jesus Christ is the Ancient of Days. His origin is from of old — before time began! He is God from God, light from light, true God from true God — and now he comes to reveal himself as the Ruler of the Universe in the little manger of Bethlehem.
There’s no question of waffling. No hesitation. No procrastination or avoidance. No — Jesus says to the Father:
“A body you have prepared for me — behold I come to do your will.”
That’s what Christmas is all about: The Incarnation of Jesus Christ at the Annunciation on March 25th is God preparing a body for His Son — a body that can be offered, a body that can come and do the will of God upon the Cross. A body that can take up the throne of Calvary.
This obedience of Christ — this taking on of human flesh in order to submit to God’s will out of supreme love — “Behold, I come to do your will!” — that’s what effects our freedom and our peace with God. That’s what actually saves us.
The loving obedience of Christ is the source of our salvation.
As St. Paul puts it in the letter to the Romans: “For just as through the disobedience of one person (namely…Adam), the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one person, (Jesus Christ), the many will be made righteous!”
Jesus Himself says: “I have not come to do my own will, but the will of my heavenly Father.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, he says: “Not my will be done, but Yours.”
This is what marked the life of Christ on earth at every single moment, in every single breath:
“I come to do — not my own will — but YOUR will, Father.”
I wonder if we say that? I know in my case, I don’t always say that. I usually say something more like:
Behold, I come to do MY will!
Behold. I come to do whatever I want, when I want, and how I want…”
Because obedience is really hard for us.
“Obedience” is rooted in a word that means “to listen” — Obedience is when we listen for what God is asking of us, because we know and believe that He is a loving God. And then, because we trust Him, we then freely submit to His command, engage our will to carry it out. As St. Ignatius of Loyola once said: “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.” When we trust the one whom we obey…
But we don’t always trust God, do we? And so we say instead:
“Behold, I come to do my will.”
And our culture around us — or as I like to call it “our anti-culture” around us — supports us in this endeavor. It deforms us and perverts the way we think about God and His will for our lives. It pushes us into the direction of SELF-CREATION.
Facebook, instagram, Tik-Tok, CNN, Fox News — all of that is telling you over and over again that the only thing trustworthy is YOU. So YOU have to determine what your life is all about. You have to define the MEANING of your life.
So much for destiny. So much for a God-given meaning that we have the chance to discover and embrace for ourselves! So much for listening to and obeying the will of a good and holy Father who always wants what’s best for us. No… We get to create ourselves! We get to invent ourselves!
You might recall that in the notorious Supreme Court decision, Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, one of the justices literally claimed that:
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
This is the astonishing claim of our modern world — That true freedom only happens when WE get to call the shots and when WE create meaning for ourselves.
I beg to differ.
Freedom is not about determining for ourselves what is real and what is best for us.
True freedom is obedience.
True freedom is obedience to the will of God.
If we have in ourselves the power to respond by grace, and say YES to His will — only then will we really be free to be who we were created to be.
Until then, we are just slaves to our own will. We are self-centered. We’re upset and agitated in so many ways. We’re avoiding our destiny.
But God wants us to say with our whole heart, mind, soul, and will — “Behold, I come to do YOUR will. I come to do what YOU want — not what I want.”
I want what You want.
At our parish mission last month, Jon Leonetti shared the story of Blessed Chiara Badano. She was a young teenaged girl sick with terminal cancer. In her hospital unit, she began to share her joy and life and goodness with all the other patients there with her. Her prayer in the midst of that terrible suffering was this: “Jesus, I want what You want.”
“Jesus, I come to do YOUR will, not my own. I only want what You want.”
That is at the heart of our faith. Why would we waste time asserting ourselves over against what God wants for us? That only breaks us and breaks our relationships.
What if instead, we say: “Lord, I don’t know what’s best for my life. I really don’t. But YOU do. And I come to do YOUR will.”
That is an honest prayer. But it is a prayer that then DEMANDS something from us.
Because once we have discerned God’s will — by examining the Scriptures, listening to the Church’s Magisterium, and coming to the Lord in humble prayer — then we need to do it promptly.
We can’t feign ignorance. We cannot pretend we don’t know what He’s asking us to do.
Mary, the mother of God, shows us what that looks like in our gospel this weekend. At the beginning of the story we heard, the story of Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we get this line:
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste
Now, this is not a frantic or frazzled haste. It’s more like the urgent haste of knowing what God wants, and then doing it. Doing it promptly. Doing it with peace — knowing that her cousin is depending on her.
That’s another component to true obedience: Not only do we want to say: “Behold, I come to do your will, Lord!” We also want to do it promptly, without hesitation and without procrastination.
Any kids here today — teenagers, younger little ones — I encourage you to promptly obey your parents! Promptly! Don’t wait around! It only gets harder, and harder and harder to obey, to make the bed, to do the chores, to put the toys away, when you keep on putting it off and you keep on resisting.
Something like that happens with us in our relationship with God, too — if we promptly respond, things are a lot easier. It doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming if we respond with humility and love right away — just as Mary does, always saying YES, always giving in, always surrendering —
“Behold I come to do Your will NOW!” As soon as it becomes clear to me, Lord, I come to do Your will!
I just want what You want. I am not my own creator. I didn’t make myself. Lord, You are my creator, you know the plan for my life. Help me to want THAT. Help me to do Your will.