And so, another season draws to a close.
We prepared with Frodo and Sam in the Shire. We set forth from Rivendell on Ash Wednesday with the Fellowship. Throughout Lent we plunged through the depths of Moria and ran the fields of Rohan, fought for good things at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, struggle through the sorrows the Dead Marshes and Mordor itself. On Good Friday we scaled Mt. Doom and saw the end of all things. And then Easter came and continues, and our tears of sorrow are now mixed with tears of joy.
Every year we have this opportunity to return: both to Middle-earth and to Lent. Every year we have a chance to reflect and muse, wonder and wander, to save the Shire. Every year we have another choice to embrace the good, true, and beautiful: to stand against the sin and hatred that would divide us.
It was a pleasure doing so this year with you. Until the next time, may the blessings of all the Free Peoples be with you, and may your Easter joy overfill your soul.
The Grey Havens
And what shall we see? (Source)
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon‐falls, the mackerel‐crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing‐masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
-William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
Year A: For the Purposes of Remembrance
Year B: On What Lies Beyond the Circles of This World
Year C: On the Simple Rewards of a Good Life
The Scouring of the Shire
There exists the home that is our residence: our birthplace, our dwelling, our place of identification. There exists the home that is preserved in memory: the nostalgia of growing up or raising family, of consistent experience over a period of time. There exists the home that is worth fighting for: to maintain for ourselves and for those we love, to defend against corruption and devastation.
For our returning hobbits, the Shire is this type of home. it is where they are from; it is a place they strongly love; it, more than Middle-earth itself, is what they set our so long ago to save. Home has inspired them, comforted them, gave them courage, gave them hope. And in the end, they saved the Shire: though not without change, not without loss. Even with our best intentions, we can prevent the passing of time, the evolution of home.
But there exists another understanding of home that resist time and change: the vision of home, the home of the heart. There is a Shire for which the hobbits long, that Sam wishes to regrow, which endures all passings. It is the shadow of the form, a taste of the eternal: the longing for a home which does not end. As our Lenten journey nears its end, it is for such homes that we should reorient ourselves: and in doing so, help bring about a foreshadow of that Home into our own homes today.
Year A: On the Care and Concern for All Creation
Year B: On the Things that Really Matter
Year C: On Bearing Wrongs Patiently
Our journey from Rivendell to Mt. Doom was our Lenten journey: 40 days we walked across Middle-earth in detail and reflection. Our return journey from Mt. Doom to Rivendell takes a fraction of the space, and leaves little time for reflection. Yet the Easter journey lasts longer than the Lenten period: our celebration is more extensive than our penance.
That the journey home hold less of our attention is not surprising: after all, returning from a hike seems to pass faster than our initial climb since we are familiar with the trail and have a clear endpoint in mind. Yet there is much to see, experience, and reflect on this Easter journey: on the great conversations still on-going, on the pains that remain, on those who did not understand what we’ve been through.
We who have so intentionally walked the Lenten road should embrace the Easter trail; we who have trained our bodies for pilgrimage should not let our muscles and habits go slack. For we who have looked inward must now look to the horizon: there is much to say and to do inspired by our Easter joy.
Year A: On the People Who Did Not Make the Journey
Year B: On Returning Home
Year C: On Ills That Linger
Nothing save the Divine last forever. All earthly things change, evolve, and ultimately pass away. Even with with the Ring destroyed and Sauron defeated, the Fellowship and their allies cannot remain together forever. Even with the Tomb empty and Christ victorious, we still must daily deal with imperfection of the world.
That things are not yet perfect–that we still experience loss, that we still must bid farewell to friends and family–does not diminish their significance. In fact, in our fallen state, it is perhaps the absence and the distance that helps us to understand the profound significance of love and friendship. G.K. Chesterton spoke of this in his concluding reflections on Charles Dickens:
“Comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel, but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which, through God, shall endure for ever. The inn does not point to the road: the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters. And when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.”
We cannot prevent time from passing; instead, we can choose how to respond to its passing. By celebrating one another and appreciating every moment. While we await the tavern at the end of the world.
Year A: On Gifts
Year B: On the Long Defeat
Year C: On Burying the Dead
The Steward and the King
The entrance and coronation of Aragorn as King of Gondor is a weird phenomenon to a society so focused on progress and newness. In our times, when we restore something, it is as an act of historical preservation: to keep the past alive so it can be studied, taught, or perhaps even experienced. But this is a different kind of restoration, one that moves beyond the tension of past verses future.
For Aragorn is a king, no doubt, of the line of kings from ancient times; he will rule from their ancient stronghold, with their wisdom to guide him. But he is not a carbon-copy of the kings of old, for he has endured new things – exile, The Fellowship, the War of the Ring – that allow him to meet the needs of his people presently. Aragorn goes out of his way to bring the old – the crown, the scepter, the white tree – together with the new – Gandalf and Frodo’s part in the coronation, the wedding to Arwen, forgiveness to the eastern men, the new purpose of the steward.
At Easter, we celebrate a restoration: Christ, by his death and resurrection, has restored men and women to their original relationship with God. Man was created and meant to dwell eternally in Paradise: sin destroyed that path. Through Christ, we are restored, but to a new state, one which is essential old and yet entirely new. And in fact, the Christian tradition celebrates this new relationship as even more glorious than the old: “O happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam, that won for us so mighty a Redeemer.”
Year A: On the Secret Fire That Kindles the Heart
Year B: On the Need for Justice and Mercy
Year C: On Willingly Laying Down One’s Office
The Field of Cormallen
The unexpected victory of the empty tomb (Source)
Each year, we hear the story again: told at length at the Easter Vigil, more briefly on Easter Sunday itself. The story of salvation history: the promise, the long road traveled, the deeds of Good Friday, the unexpected victory.
In Middle-earth, no doubt the story of nine-finger Frodo and the ring of doom is retold year after year on the anniversary of Sauron’s final defeat. The story of the War of the Ring: the council of Elrond, the Fellowship’s journey, the deeds on Mt. Doom, the unexpected victory.
Why recount the story time and time again? We know it nearly by heart after the first couple tellings. Yet the story needs recounting in the same way that a meal needs to be consumed though we know the taste: it nourishes us, sustains us, and by its glory reinvigorates our hope.
So, on this Easter Sunday, let’s remember the unexpected victories, the great deeds unlooked for: what a hobbit of the Shire and a man from Galilee have won. Christ is risen, alleluia!
Year A: On Relics
Year B: On Glory
Year C: On Hearing the Story Told
“Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something `merited,’ but always a gift. The foundations of the world are not based in justice. There is something more than justice, without denying that justice has its place. […] Love is always a “gift,” and as such it is unmerited. The whole of the physical and human cosmos is based on this truth. We ourselves exist first as gifts.”
James V Schall, SJ
Compassion at the end (Source)
“Where shall I begin to weep for the actions of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, in this my lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me forgiveness of sins.”
So speaks St. Andrew, Bishop of Crete, in his “Great Canon of Repentance.” On Good Friday, on the slopes of Mt. Doom, at the end of all things, we consider our actions. How did it come to this?
All the pain and suffering of Frodo; all the hardship and sorrows of Sam; all the sacrifices and trials of the Fellowship; all the wisdom and hopes of the Council of Elrond: it all comes to this. In the very Crack of Doom, in Hell incarnate we have arrived, and our grief and our mistakes come to the forefront. Frodo was not strong enough; Gollum was more cunning.
We lament Frodo’s failure; and yet, by the compassion of the Fellowship the quest was complete. By the compassion of Sam was Frodo carried to the end. By the compassion of Frodo was Gollum spared to play his final part. By the compassion of God did the Cross become the sign of our salvation.
The Ring was not destroyed by strength; salvation was not achieved by wisdom. Mercy, love, sacrifice, compassion: even in our weeping, we cling to these are hope.
Year A: On Carrying
Year B: On the End of All Things
Year C: For the Sake of Mercy
The Land of Shadow
It’s Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum. This evening is traditionally when the Last Supper was celebrated, and the institution of the Eucharist is recalled specifically year after year.
As Frodo and Sam make their way across the hellscape of Mordor, its worth reflecting on spiritual food. The lembas bread that has sustained Frodo and Sam for so long in many ways parallels the concepts of both the Eucharist and manna, the bread that sustained the Israelites for 40 years in the desert. Lembas shares similar characteristics to manna: it is a gift, not something obtained; its is imperishable provided it is properly kept; its unassuming form hides great energy; it provides both physical and spiritual nourishment.
And that’s the great marvel of lembas: that the Elves would know that the hobbits’ (and in particular Frodo’s) greatest burden would be on the soul, not the body. Lembas keeps them walking, both by allowing their legs to move but by also empowering their souls to choose to move.
Catholics and many other Christians hold a similar view of the Eucharist. Any sustenance provide by the appearance of bread is minor; it is instead the spiritual food in the form of the Body of Christ that is the true appeal of the Eucharist.
Year A: On the Lamentations
Year B: On Hell
Year C: On Comforting the Afflicted