When I went to summer camp before the fifth grade, I experienced intense homesickness and overwhelming anxiety. To comfort me, my parents wrote me frequent letters. My favorite letters were two my father sent me containing long excerpts from two chapters of The Lord of the Rings: “The Choices of Master Samwise” and “The Tower of Cirith Ungol.” In these chapters, the hobbit Samwise Gamgee finds himself alone in the black lands of Mordor, his master Frodo taken by the enemy. The small hobbit has to battle Shelob, a giant spider, and break into the fortress of Cirith Ungol to save Frodo. My father explained to me that Sam could only become heroic in his most desperate hour when he was unsure of what to do, facing insurmountable odds, and bereft of the entire fellowship. Sam’s bravery encouraged me in my panicked state.
Since those two summers, I have rarely experienced the same intense feeling of panic, but my anxiety has taken lesser, more common forms. I have found myself worrying about my deficiencies in social skills, fitness, and other faculties that I perceived to be greater in my friends. At a discussion on prayers of petition during a high school retreat, I wrote down several things that I wanted from God, and I realized my selfishness. I wanted to fix all the small things about me for which I was insecure, but I neglected to care about weightier matters: the salvation of my soul and my love for others.
Jesus warns his disciples against that attitude, telling them to “be not solicitous”  and “[s]eek first the Kingdom of God.”  It took me a while to realize Jesus did not instruct us to replace the little voice that whispers “you’re not good enough” with the little voice that whispers “you’re always good enough”; in other words, to replace anxiousness with contentment. We should not live carefree lives, but we also should not worry too much about lesser things. I often think about the Lord’s words to Martha, who tended to housework while Jesus visited. Jesus says, “Martha, Martha […] you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed or indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part and it is not to be taken from her.” Scott Hahn’s commentary on Matthew makes it clear that when Jesus calls us to “[s]eek first the Kingdom of God,” He calls us to prioritize our spiritual needs above our physical ones—to prioritize love for others, for ourselves, and for God above temporal goods.
But the longing for perfection that animated my anxieties, although misplaced, was not unfounded. Our desire for perfection expresses humanity’s universal homesickness. By the sin of Adam, our greatness has been forever diluted and debased, and we yearn for the state of perfection from whence we fell. And although our first concern should be for our soul and for the souls of others, we should strive to be better in all facets of our lives. As Cardinal Newman said, “To live is to change, and to change often is to become more perfect.” 
Yet we should also remember that our deficiencies often work together for the greater glory of God and ourselves. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa that “[T]here is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom.” That Christian mystery leads me to think about what my father said about Sam. If Sam had the wisdom of Gandalf and the strength of Aragorn or if they were there to help him, his deeds would not have been as heroic. For only by plunging us down to our lowest depths can the Author of the universe, whose consubstantial Son became incarnate not as a king but as a carpenter, raise us up to our highest.
1: Matthew 6:25, Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.
2: Matt. 6:33, DRCB.
3: Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845.
4: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, “Article 3: Whether, if Man had not sinned, God would have become Incarnate,” Reply to Objection 3.
Grayson Brooks ’25 is potentially majoring in Chemistry or Physics. He’s a cradle Catholic hailing from New York City with a deep and abiding passion for chicken pot pie. Much of that which he loves has been destroyed or sent into exile.