In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Sauron, the evil Satanic figure in Middle-Earth, forges “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
Now, this Ring is in our own world too, and not as a symbol. Man is stained with a tendency to grasp for evil [i.e. original sin, which is what Tolkien always believed the Ring of Power to be a metaphor for.]. But, we are not confined to evil, though not by willpower alone [Salvation sola gratiae, so not Pelagianism, or the American religion]. I urge you to accept that initial invitation placed on your hearts [as we are made in the image and likeness of God with a predisposition towards Him through reason], and seek out all that is good, all that is true, and all that is beautiful. Now, truth is “a correspondence of mind and thing,” where our thoughts are in line with the objective reality [all borrowed from Aquinas. Unfortunately, I don't remember where in the Summa Theologica or his other works I got them. Sorry]. Beauty is “that which pleases upon being seen,” where we take delight in an object through intuition and the senses, and is the “splendor of Truth” [This I think was also a paraphrase of a summary of Aquinas; "Splendor of the Truth" is also an encyclical by Blessed John Paul II. Each mirrors the others and are each other, in some mysterious way, to some extent at least.]. Goodness is “that which perfects or completes a thing’s being,” or rather, “that which is in accord with the nature of humanity,” and goodness underlines what is true and what is beautiful [Of course I use the Catholic definition of nature and not a purely biological one.].
In each of these, something is assumed, something that leads us to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and when properly ordered, wisdom [St. Peter's List has an excellent summation of knowledge and wisdom, which follows along with this nicely.]. That something is love. Take responsibility in ‘willing the good of another,’ even though this is contrary to the ideals of our generation. In your lives, seek to be good husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, employers and employees. Father Quintana, portrayed by Javier Bardem in the film To the Wonder, challenges us with these words:
“Love is not only a feeling. Love is a duty. To commit yourself is to run the risk of failure, the risk of betrayal. But the man who makes a mistake can repent….If you feel your love has died, it perhaps is waiting to be transformed into something higher.”
Love is a sacrifice, and burdensome, but one that brings us complete freedom and joy. Yes, we will suffer, but this is lessened if we remember that joy is forever within our hearts, opened by saying, “Yes!” but happiness is there for but a moment. Also, know that is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend. [Acceptance of suffering leads to perfection (sanctity). Supertradmum just finished her perfection series. I need to go back and read it all!]
And, I say, go after academic excellence. Chase a well-paying and important position at major companies. At a minimum, there needs to be bread on the table and bills need to be paid. Particularly in scholarly pursuits, there is always a noble desire to pursue truth. But material excellence is not perfection, which is primarily interior. Never let the hurdles presented by society’s view of excellence bog down your personal transformation [my way here of saying 'conversion of heart and mind']. Additionally, reject noise and flash, so that you can immerse yourself in silence in order that you might listen better [Sacred Silence: The Pathway to Compassion was such an interesting theme for the mostly heretical and/or non-Christian 'Festival of Faiths' here in Louisville. I mean, the Catholic liturgy no longer has it (no 'silent' Canon, remember?) when it was the most sacred of all. And of course, compassion is only a building block of charity. Compassion, coming from empathy and sympathy leads to us doing acts of charity and mercy.]
To return to Tolkien in closing: How does he deal with this problem? In the first volume, the heroes Frodo and Samwise is shown parts of the future by the elf Galadriel, the Lady of Light. The visions are disturbing and full of uncertainty, but she counsels him saying, “Do not be afraid!” I take pause to ponder over Galadriel’s parting words after being offered the Ring of Power, which serve as a guide for not only Hobbits about to embark on a journey of self-sacrificial love, but for us now and until the end of time: “I pass the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” [That might be the most Marian quote in all of Tolkien, and I LOVE IT. Reminds me a bit of "Ecce ancilla domine. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum." as well as the words of St. John the Baptist, who of course was sanctified through the Christ Child present in the Virgin's womb. The scene also brings to mind the presentation of the red and white crowns to St. Maximilian Kole, where he chose not just purity and martyrdom, but both! I can't say whether J.R.R. Tolkien would have known about this, but I suspect this was not the first time a saint was given such a choice.]