Be Gentle and Merciful!

Sirach 8:5

Do not reproach a man who is turning away from sin;
remember that we all deserve punishment.

Perhaps the most tragic moment in Tolkien’s great novel The Lord of the Rings comes when Gollum, wavering between the choice to betray or help Frodo and his loyal servant Sam, comes upon them as they sleep. Gollum has long been a slave of the evil Ring but has slowly begun to show signs but he might break free. But the battle in Gollum’s soul climaxes this way:

“Slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee — but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.

“But at that touch Frodo stirred and cried out softly in his sleep, and immediately Sam was wide awake. The first thing he saw was Gollum ‘pawing at master,’ as he thought.

“‘Hey you!’ he said roughly. ‘What are you up to?’

“‘Nothing, nothing,’ said Gollum softly. ‘Nice Master!’

“‘I dare say,’ said Sam. ‘but where have you been to — sneaking off and sneaking back, you old villain?’

“Gollum withdrew himself, and a green glint flickered under his heavy lids. Almost spider-like he looked now, crouched back on his bent limbs, with his protruding eyes. The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall. ‘Sneaking, sneaking!’ he hissed.”

From that moment on, Gollum’s soul is lost and he heads irrevocably toward betrayal of Frodo and ultimate destruction.

If there’s a Gollum in your life, be merciful and don’t make Sam’s mistake of reproaching him when he is turning away from sin. It could make the difference between life and death.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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