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Choosing a good doom in a bad time

Can a character in a mythical world teach us anything about the challenges the Church and Catholics face today?

(Image: Tetiana Grypachevska/

No Catholic these days needs to be told that the Church faces many big challenges, many of them the fault of Catholics. We may prioritize these challenges differently, but they trouble each Catholic who takes the time to think about them. Unity, evangelical zeal, a clear and compelling message that challenges the world’s priorities, truth and beauty that have come down to us from the Gospels and the deposit of faith; all these seem to be elusive—to some, hopeless.

Can a character in a mythical world teach us anything about the challenges the Church and Catholics face today?

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, Boromir is the eldest son of the Steward of a great city in Middle Earth, a hero to his people, brave to a fault. He becomes one of the nine members of the Fellowship that is charged with destroying the enemy’s Ring of Power. Yet, Boromir is the heir to the stewardship, a warrior, and a man of the world. And, as such, he is powerfully drawn to using the Ring against the Enemy, a disposition rooted in the wisdom of the world—along with the often imperceptible lust to obtain whatever it is that each of us desires.

To Boromir, the decision to carry the Ring into the heart of the Enemy’s realm, where it is likely to be taken and used against his people, requires a kind of “faith” that seems foolish, even mad.

Thus, in the freedom of his conscience, Boromir makes the choice to take the Ring and return it to his father’s realm—the wisdom of the world. Not for himself, or so he convinces himself, but for the greater good. The consequence of this choice is that Boromir not only fails to acquire the Ring but also sunders the Fellowship. In much of classical mythology, as in real life, such a choice would seem to seal his doom.

But Tolkien’s concept of doom, informed by his Catholic faith, was not inevitable destruction. Rather, it is a momentous judgment or decision that entails consequences. In Boromir’s case, his doom meant he must repent of the choice he had made by defending the remaining hobbits to the death, even as he was convinced there was no hope of success against the immediate assault or the Ringbearer’s mission.

At the end, Boromir chose to act as though the hobbits he was protecting would survive and the mission would succeed.

One could say St. John Paul II made many choices that by the world’s wisdom were hopeless. Perhaps he felt that way on occasion. The power and terror of the Nazis and the Soviet Union in his Polish homeland that prevailed from the late 1930s to the 1990s, the daily burden this philosopher-teacher experienced leading the worldwide Church.

Yet, he chose again and again to act, not as Boromir did at the end—as though the mission would succeed—but because he had faith that God’s will would be accomplished and that he had been called to participate in this great and mysterious mission.

Isn’t this a choice all of us, including Church leaders, have to make? Even when we feel and believe that the world is turning upside down, when we feel pressure or temptation to conform to the world’s wisdom, when the Church seems to be back on its heels in many ways, when, humanly speaking, there is no hope?

At such moments, we can choose to trust that the Gospels and the deposit of faith are true and good, and act accordingly.

Even to the end as Boromir did. Even, as a Catholic might say, to a good doom.

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About Thomas M. Doran 82 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Lucifer Ego, and Kataklusmos (2020). He has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects, was president of Tetra Tech/MPS, was an adjunct professor of engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and is a member of the College of Fellows of The Engineering Society of Detroit.


  1. At present Sauron holds the ring. Martyrdom may well be offered us if we hold fast to Christ’s revelation. Although Tolkien aficionado Doran’s noble free choice to end heroically like Boromir may indeed come to pass, there are likely going to be many heroic options.
    White martyrdom is a good choice too, the form many presently suffer. It requires immense patience, great fortitude. Listening to what continually comes out of the Vatican, “Absolve everyone whether or not they repent [to priests], the Holy Spirit is full of surprises [to Synod wayfarers], Embrace radical inclusion” [to bishops] is the stuff for that bloodless martyrdom for the faithful. Another is elevating McElroy to the cardinalate so he could dress down Bishop Paprocki, arguing the supremacy of conscience over revelation. It’s a slower, torturous way of figuratively dying. At moments [for example when Biden and Pelosi receive the Eucharist at the Vatican and Francis castigates Archbishop Cordileone for being political rather than pastoral] insufferable. Being shot up with arrows is quicker. More humane. In comparison perhaps the easy way out.
    Whatever our choice, “trust that the Gospels and the deposit of faith are true and good, and act accordingly”. We can bank on that hopeful trust as evidence of their truth.

  2. How many times do we need to hear from the sacred scripture, The Lord of the Rings? Enough already. If there isn’t more in our repertoire …
    Why am I fed up with this? Christianity is about revelation in real human history. Rings is a fable, a made-up world. Must we appeal to fiction and fables to make our case?

    • I see what you mean, dear jpfhays.

      Yet, I also perceive that Thomas M. Doran has given us a well-composed summary of the dangers of human leaders trying to out-reason God (albeit, expressed in a popular contemporary genre).

      As you say, dear jpfhays, Our God Most Holy: Father, Son & Holy Spirit have given us comprehensive rules for our individual & collective lives in the 27 texts by 9 Apostolic authors. These historically attested New Covenant truths are cited over 3,500 times by The Catechism of the Catholic church. Do we need anything else?

      At heart, Thomas M. Doran is trying to highlight the hubristic insanity of any priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, or synod ‘Doing a Borromir’ and hoping to steer the people of Jesus Christ by the ‘light of this world’, rather than The Light of The One & Only Gospel.

      Has he not provided a sovereign warning to the current crop of overly ambitious clerics. I think he has. I congratulate Thomas on his literary prowess and spiritual discernment of the dangerous waters The Church is being Piloted into.

      Always under the unshakeable authority of King Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

    • Scripture may be share either overtly or covertly while sharing within the arts is a means to reach an otherwise deaf world or a world that has the ears to listen. Granted it may not be what you desire but what others may need. Good Scripture should be a keystone of populist theatric, music or arts to reach those that may not otherwise be exposed to Scripture.

    • Thank you jpfhays; I agree with you. Nothing wrong with what the article is about, as far as it goes, but the Church needs Pentecostal power to subvert the evil of our times: bold witnesses for Christ as was Peter on the Day of Pentecost. Where are they? Who are they? Wherever they are we need to hear about it, and we also need to say, “the buck stops here” and do our part to be the that Light of Christ to a dying world.

      • Well argued, dear Sarah Schmidt.

        One might add: Before the over-confident reforming clique of hierarchs can expect to be filled with The Holy Spirit of Pentecost, they need THE FEAR OF THE LORD.

        Some of the Holy Mass readings for Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Lent (at least in Australia) seem pertinent:

        “Hear The Word of The Lord, you rulers of Sodom;
        Listen to The Command of God, you people of Gomorrah.
        Wash yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of My sight!”

        “But how can you recite My Commandments and take My Covenant on your lips,
        You who despise My Law and throw My Words to the wind.”

        “The greatest among you must be you servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

        We need to pray for the Pope, the wayward curia, cardinals, archbishops, etc. that they repent & return to full obedience to King Jesus Christ’s commands, for the sake of the whole Catholic Church & because their hubris places their own eternal souls in jeopardy. “Hear The Word of The Lord, you rulers of Sodom!”

        Watch and Pray everyone. Eternally in Christ Jesus; blessings from marty

  3. This is in connection to Fr Morello above:
    Joe Biden is pompous and arrogant with his attitude toward the Catholic church. He defies them to cut him off at the communion rail because he’s “Joe Biden” If he were cut off I think it would re-energize many Catholics to a much stronger belief in their faith and we might find a return of many of the “borderline” Mass attenders as some of them have taken a negative view of the normal practices required of full time Catholics . Let’s see some guts from our bishops who side with Biden and start taking the side of Jesus Christ and not joe biden.

    • Well commented Fr Peter Morello PhD and Tom Gr. The current situation is maximally serious.

      Revelation 21:7-8:

      “Those who conquer will inherit these things,
      and I will be their God and they will be My children.”

      “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murders, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolators and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

      Let’s all pray for a revelation of the cleansing fear of God in Rome.

      Ever in The Alpha and Omega; love & blessings from marty

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