You are a pilgrim
Did you know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) uses the words “pilgrim” and “pilgrimage” 25 times to describe Mary and the Church and their activities on earth? Dictionary.com says a “pilgrim” is “a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion” or “a traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.”
Whether you realize it or not, you are a pilgrim! You are a Christian traveler in a foreign land seeking your true home (Jn 17:16, 18:36). The brave men and women of fiction may be on what Joseph Campbell calls the “hero’s journey,” but as a member of the Church, you are on a saint’s journey (CCC 946)!
The hero’s journey has three main phases: departure, initiation and return. It may be said that the saint’s journey also has three phases: the calling, the cross and communion. While the hero is called to adventure, so the saint is called by God (CCC 27). While the hero must face adversity, so the saint must carry his cross (Lk 9:23). And while the hero returns with the boon at the end of his quest, so the saint seeks communion with the Body of Christ during his life (Jn 13:34-35) and with the Blessed Trinity after his death (Jn 17:20-23).
The hero’s rest
All great stories have action, but heroes must rest and recover from their adventures from time to time. After barely escaping the Black Riders at the River Bruinen, Frodo rested in Rivendell. Another great example of the hero’s rest, which is often overlooked since it did not make it into the movies, is the hobbits’ rest at the house of Tom Bombadil (FotR, ch. 7).
Shortly after leaving the Shire, Frodo and his three friends are almost drowned and crushed to death by a nasty willow tree. Old Man Willow lives in the heart of the Old Forest in the Withywindle valley beside the river. He is described as an ancient being with a rotten heart and green strength who hates things that go free upon the earth. Just when as it appears the hobbits’ adventure is coming to a quick and abrupt end, Tom Bombadil arrives on the scene to rescue them.
Tom’s singing and dancing are happy, silly and bold. His songs go something like, “Hey dol! Merry dol! Ring a dong dillo! Ring a dong! Hop along! Fal lal the willow! Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!” Tom breaks off a branch from Old Man Willow and smacks him with it. Then he commands Old Man Willow to release the hobbits. The ancient tree quickly complies and Tom invites the hobbits back to his house telling them, “You shall come home with me! The table is laden with yellow cream, honeycomb and white bread and butter.” This reminds me of the “land flowing with milk and honey” God promises to the Israelites in the Old Testament. The four hobbits receive Tom’s invitation with joy and follow his voice, raised in song, through the forest back to his home.
When the hobbits arrive at the house of Tom Bombadil, they are safe and secure. Tom offers them hot water for their baths, soft slippers, beds with deep mattresses and, of course, a table full of satisfying food (bread, butter, milk, cheese, herbs and berries) and a refreshing drink. “The drink in their drinking-bowls seemed to be clear cold water, yet it went to their hearts like wine and set free their voices.” This drink reminds me of Psalm 104:15. When Frodo asks Tom’s companion spirit, Goldberry, who Tom is she replies, “He is” calling to mind Exodus 3:14 and John 18:5-8.
Frodo and his company remain with Tom and Goldberry for a second evening because rainy weather prevents them from traveling the next morning. The hobbits are happy to have an excuse to remain an extra day and use their additional time with Tom to talk with him about the history of Middle Earth. Tom’s answers are sometimes rambling and more mysterious than the hobbits’ questions. Nevertheless, the second evening’s dinner is better than the first and the hobbits rest safely for a second night. On the second morning, the hobbits rise from sleep refreshed and reluctantly gather up their gear to continue their quest.
So what does the house of Tom Bombadil have to do with Christian pilgrims? Is there a saint’s rest? Yes, I believe there is!
The Divine Office
I hadn’t read the chapter about Tom Bombadil for many years, but when I did again recently, the hobbits’ rest at his house resonated with me. Why? I think because we enjoy stories that are good, true and beautiful since they reflect God in some way (Phil 4:8; CCC 32, 41). I believe the hero’s rest at house Bombadil reflects the experience we have when we pray the Divine Office.
Like the psalmist in Psalm 63:2-4, as we go about the adventure of our daily lives we begin to thirst for the Lord. Tired and weary, we seek rest from television, computer, phone, work and so on. The Christian pilgrim desires to put down his cross for just a while, but saints don’t go to the house of Tom Bombadil for rest. We go to our Father’s house.
In praying the Divine Office, the saint raises his being with the entire Church to God in a beautiful song “sung throughout all the ages in the halls of heaven” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 83). Past, present and future become one as the entire Church lives together in heavenly dialogue with the Blessed Trinity: “prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” (CCC 2565; General Instructions of the Liturgy of the Hours, 14). In the Divine Office, which is a source of “piety and nourishment,” the Church expresses and manifests the mystery of Christ to the world and is sanctified through her heavenly dialogue with the Blessed Trinity (SC 2, 90; GI 14).
As the Divine Office begins, the saint finds himself walking through the halls of heaven singing hymns and psalms of praise to God (GI 16, 42, 43). Hearing the pilgrim’s voice, Our Lady meets him and teaches him how to present himself before the Lord (CCC 967). Now the saint, accompanied by the Virgin, approaches the Lord’s throne room (SC 85; GI 15). “Do whatever he tells you,” the Virgin says with a merciful glance as the doors to the throne room open (Jn 2:5).
The the saint is met by the Virgin’s Son. The Word speaks (GI 44). The saint responds (GI 49), and then, as they enter the throne room, Our Lady and the saint humbly say “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord …” (Lk 1:46; GI 50). The Son leads the saint before his Father and they address him together (SC 84; GI 3, 6, 7, 15), seeking intercession (Jn 17:1-26) and praying the Lord’s Prayer (GI 17, 51, 52). The saint makes a final prayer (GI 53) and then he is dismissed by the Son, “Go in peace,” and leaves the Lord’s throne room to continue his journey (GI 54).
The Divine Office is our saint’s rest. When we pray it, we pray with the entire Church here on earth and in heaven. We go to a place like Tom Bombadil’s house, but better. We go to the throne room of our Lord. While we are there we make petitions and, like the hobbits at Tom’s house, we also give thanks and ask questions. Some of our questions are answered and some are not. When we leave the throne room, we know we can return later to rest in God’s presence as his adopted son or daughter and not as a mere subject.
If you want to learn more about the Divine Office, please see Philip’s articles: Four Volume Breviary, Beginner’s Divine Office, and Why the Divine Office. They do a great job explaining what the Divine Office is and how to pray it.