Editor’s note: DCSC member Kathleen Strycula reflects on the unassuming but pivotal role of the disciple John throughout Christ’s Passion on the Cross.

“Where’s Bilbo?”

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is the one who is constantly overlooked, forgotten about, and left behind by the group of dwarves with whom he is travelling. And yet, he is the one who holds the group together. Without him, the others would have been eaten by giant spiders, squashed by trolls, and locked forever in the wood elves’ jail cells.

I have long loved the character of Bilbo, but it took me a while to realize just why I identify with him so much. It wasn’t until the wizard Gandalf spoke these words: “Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I’ve found. I have found it is the small things. Everyday deeds by ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay.”

And then I realized: Bilbo is so normal.

Compared to all the other characters, Bilbo is the most unlikely of heroes. He loves peace and quiet, tending his garden, knowing what to expect in life. I can relate.

As I meditate on the Stations of the Cross throughout this Lenten season, I have a feeling it might be for a lot of the same reasons that I keep coming back to the figure of the disciple John.

Quiet, steady, and the youngest of all the Apostles, John also seems an unlikely hero. Throughout the Way of the Cross, he does not have a memorable, recorded encounter with Christ like Mary, Veronica, or Simon. And yet he plays a hugely pivotal role.

Why? Because he is always there.

I can imagine the disciples regrouping after Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they turn from one to another, asking, “Where’s John?” Meanwhile, he is with Jesus, actually right where they all should be. He is the one holding them all together.

It is John who gets Peter entrance into the inner courtyard by the fire as Jesus is being tried. John is the one Mary leans on in her grief throughout her Son’s Passion.

His constant presence makes John noticeable, sometimes even more than his actions. After he has walked the most difficult path of the Cross with Jesus and Mary, Christ does not let his quiet, faithful presence go unnoticed. He gives him a great gift—”Son, behold your mother”—and entrusts him with the love of his own mother—”Mother, behold your son.”

We may all feel ourselves unlikely heroes. But don’t underestimate them. They are the ones Jesus often turns to, because they are there.

Let us strive to be there always, through the sorrows and joys, so we can find ourselves present when Jesus turns to us with His loving gaze, generous words, and merciful gifts.

Reflection Question: Who are the unlikely heroes in your life? How can you show your gratitude for their presence in your life today?