Divide

Minas Tirith

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

‘Indeed you did your best,’ said the wizard; ‘and I hope that it may be long before you find yourself in such a tight corner again between two such terrible old men.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, ‘This is truly the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But others said, ‘The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.

The subtlest form of subterfuge performed by evil is the division of good things. Denethor needs Gandalf; Gondor needs Rohan; the Elves need the Dwarves; and yet, throughout our journey, time and time again we have seen what little resistance is left against Sauron undermined by internal division. Denethor sees Gandalf as a threat, as opposed to his rule, and therefore would hobble to defense of Gondor to ensure his family remains in power; Gondor doesn’t appreciate the battles fought by the people of Rohan, or understand the resistance playing out in other realms. Differing expectations, differing desires, differing goals: all have value until they counteract the Good itself. We must be willing to lay aside our plans for the sake of the defense of all things; when Gandalf arrives, we must cease our division.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Service and Refuge
Year B: On Stewardship
Year C: On Cities and Hamartia

The Year of St. Joseph

The Choices of Master Samwise

Editor’s Note: Apologies for the delay in publishing, which was caused by unexpected medical complications.

In today’s Lord of the Ring’s passage we read:

‘No, it’s sit here till they come and kill me over master’s body, and gets It; or take It and go.’ Sam drew a deep breath. ‘Then take It, it is!'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 1:18-21, 24)

It is the Solemnity of St. Joseph during the Year of St. Joseph–therefore, consider St. Joseph. The Husband of Mary, the Foster Father of Jesus, Joseph says speaks no words in all of Scripture, and performs few deeds: accepting Mary, traveling to Bethlehem, finding Jesus in the Temple. What then do we learn from him? The profundity of holy anonymity. The wonder of playing one’s part in the divine plan, however small it seems. And also, the nature of intention. Joseph, like Sam, choose there course of actions as righteous people; it took a sign from above, whether delivered by orcs or angels, to help them forge a different way. The original intention matters: Sam prevents the Enemy from finding the Ring, Joseph preserves the links between the Old and New Law. But when presented with another path, Joseph and Sam both change, out of love for someone else. During this Year of St. Joseph, may we always pursue the best intentions, but always be willing to give more for those we love.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On One’s Own Folly and Acknowledging Our Grief
Year B: On Choice
Year C: On the Enigmatic Empathy for the Forces of the Enemy and Mistakes Were Made

Along Came a Spider

Shelob’s Lair

Editor’s Note: Apologies for the delay in publishing, which was caused by unexpected medical complications.

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her, Sméagol who pried into all dark holes, and in past days he had bowed and worshipped her, and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him, cutting him off from light and from regret.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down at once to your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”‘” (Exodus 32:7-8)

There are gods and there is God. The act of worshipping something other than God–of crafting an idol, whether physically, relationally, or immaterially–is not a simple matter. To worship is not just to mutter words or perform rituals: it is to hold something above all other things, to make it the pinnacle of your attention, to sacrifice everything for its sake. When along comes a spider, or a serpent, or an errant thought, we might think we gain something more from the “partnership” than what we had gained with the God who is God. But it is never so: the false idols of both old and new ever promise but never fulfill, and instead of freedom, they limit our minds, our intentions, and our ways. Wealth, fame, power, scientific knowledge, equality–we must reject these when they become idols. We must destroy the molten calves of our lives, lest we to lose sight of the light.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On the Holding of Hands and The Lamp
Year B: On Waves, Arachnids, and That Which Haunts Our Steps
Year C: On Light and Be Not Afraid

St. Patrick’s Day

The Stairs of Cirith Ungol

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Overcome with weakness Frodo wept. And still the host of Morgul crossed the bridge. […] Sam was urgent. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! They’re gone.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Be serious and sober-minded so that you will be able to pray. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4: 7-10)

There’s a great irony, perhaps intentionally arranged, that the readings for the Feast of St. Patrick should open with a call for sober-mindedness. The modern celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is anything but serious and sober, nor does it really call to mind any of the great virtues or deeds St. Patrick is known for. Where is the resolve to enter hostile territory and serve among skeptical people? Where is the spirit of evangelization and teaching? Where is the intense love, hospitality, and stewardship that allows for wonders to take place? They are cast aside, replaced with an unbalanced focused on excess and imbibing. There is much to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day–the great legacy of the Irish is worthy of much joy–and this year in particular, as the pandemic seems to have nearly run the worst of its course. But we must also consider the legacy of St. Patrick and the other side of the Shamrock: the snakes and the Cross, the long labors and the eternal glory.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On a Place Wretched and Foul and Saying Yes to the Adventure
Year B: On the Sadness of Losing a Soul
Year C: On the Great Tales that Never End and The Allure of Evil

Water We Can Drink

Journey to the Crossroads

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Faramir said, ‘You will have no lack of water as you walk in Ithilien, but do not drink of any stream that flows from Imlad Morgul, the valley of Living Death.'”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

The angel said to me, ‘This water flows out into the eastern district, runs down into the Arabah and empties into the polluted waters of the sea to freshen them. Wherever it flows, the river teems with every kind of living creature; fish will abound. Where these waters flow they refresh; everything lives where the river goes.'” (Ezekiel 47:8-9)

From here until the end of our quest with Frodo and Sam, water will serve as an important motif. When water is abundant the hobbits are safe; when it is lacking they will be in danger. The discovery of water in unexpecting places will be a sign of hope and encouragement; the loss of their precious stores of water will be a moment of discouragement and fear. And there is also the unexpected water, the counter-water, that water of Imlad Morgul which is a mockery of the substance: where real water causes life and refreshes, and water tainted by the corrupt tower cause death and festering. As the Ring grows more heavy and the journey becomes more perilous, more and more the hobbits will not concern themselves with lofty musings and grand considerations: instead, they will focus on necessity, on perseverance, on where they can next find water to drink. Water in its abundance we underappreciate; in the desert we realize its value. Let us then reflect upon water and ourselves–on hope and discouragement, on life and corruption, on the sea and the desert–and then seek out the water we can drink.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Staves and Staffs and Though All Seems Lost
Year B: On Letters and the Truth in Stories
Year C: On Distinctions between Books and Movies and The Paths We Choose

The Proper Protocols of Mercy

The Forbidden Pool

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Sam sighed audibly; and not at the courtesies, of which, as any hobbit would, he thoroughly approved. Indeed in the Shire such a matter would have required a great many more words and bows.”

And in today’s Scripture we hear:

Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.’ The royal official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You may go; your son will live. ‘The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. While the man was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live. (John 4: 46-51)

In our informal society, such extensive formalities as those performed by Faramir and Frodo (and further alluded to by Sam) can seem out of place. And they can be the barrier to greater justice and mercy when the signs of the protocols become more important than the act they carry–when the people want a sign more than they want the consequence of the sign. But formal protocols and rituals exist because of the weight they carry: they make it clear that the activity–a rendering of judgement, a passing of doom, a mechanism of mercy–exists outside of ordinary time and the bounds and limitations of ordinary existence. When we lack the authority and sheer faith-inspiring presence of the Messiah Himself, the proper protocols help ground us outside ourselves. As long as we don’t allow the signs to overshadow the act itself, they can be of use to us.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On a Trial and The Malady and the Remedy
Year B: On Faramir, Captain of Gondor
Year C: On the Bitter Realization of the Doom of Another and Things That Are Forbidden

A Break in the Trial

The Window in the West

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

After so long journeying and camping, and days spent in the lonely wild, the evening meal seemed a feast to the hobbits: to drink pale yellow wine, cool and fragrant, and eat bread and butter, and salted meats, and dried fruits, and good red cheese, with clean hands and clean knives and plates.”

And in today’s liturgy we hear:

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” (Entrance Antiphon)

On Laetare Sunday, we rest amidst our Lenten journey: we take the time to focus on joy and exultation instead of penance and mourning. We dine and discuss with Frodo and Sam, taking advantage of long-forgotten comforts and relative safety. But we do not rest because the pilgrimage is over, or because our journey is any less urgent. For there is wisdom to be gained from the well-studied Faramir, and planning to be done with new intelligence and perspective. And there is great benefit to be reminded of the pale yellow wine, the bread and butter, and the good red cheese of our own lives: the things we are fighting for, the things that sustain us. On Laetare Sunday we rejoice and rest and are satisfied: for though the road is long, we are nearing its end.


Want to Read More?
Year A: On Laetare Sunday and Evaluation of Character
Year B: On Faith
Year C: On Praying for the Living and the Dead and Joy Amidst the Sorrow

Refuge

Minas Tirith

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A refuge we now find ourselves in (Source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

And upon its out-thrust knee was the Guarded City, with its seven walls of stone so strong and old that it seemed to have been not builded but carven by giants out of the bones of the earth.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

O LORD, my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and rescue me, Lest I become like the lion’s prey, to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me.” (Psalm 7:2-3)

Sometimes, we no longer have the strength to persevere; sometimes, we begin to lose the will to overcome our obstacles. In those times, we retreat to places of refuge–homes, churches, communities–where we can rest up, recover, and refocus our resolve. But, it is not enough to linger in such refuges, for they cannot protect us forever. There is only one eternal refuge, and He desires us to go forth, because his refuge is not limited to time or place. And so, we should not fear needing to seek refuge, so long as we do so not in despair but in faith: faith that from such a refuge we shall endure the storms of the world, and ride out again to pursue what’s good.


Past Reflections
Year A: On Service
Year B: On Stewardship
Year C: On Cities

Acknowledging Our Grief

The Choices of Master Samwise

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Pope Francis with monstrance as the rain pours (source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Many are the troubles of the just man, but out of them all the LORD delivers him.” (Psalm 34:19-20)

We live in loss. Immediate loss, from what the last few weeks have taken from us: habits, relationships, freedom, security. Loss, from what the last few years has whittled away from us: peace, quiet, cohesion, trust. Loss, from what sin has taken away from us: grace, justice, virtue, oneness with the Lord. We are brokenhearted; we are despairing; we are grieving the loss. It is important to grieve, important to acknowledge that are are not whole; for only in opening our hands holding the broken pieces of our hearts can we let the great Comforter work in our lives.


Past Reflections
Year A: On One’s Own Folly
Year B: On Choice
Year C: On the Enigmatic Empathy for the Forces of the Enemy

The Lamp

Shelob’s Lair

kerosene-lamp

A lamp (Source)

In today’s Lord of the Rings passage we read:

Slowly Frodo’s hand went to his bosom, and slowly he held aloft the Phial of Galadriel. For a moment it glimmered, faint as a rising star struggling in heavy earthward mists, and then as its power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo’s mind, it bean to burn, and kindled to a silver flame, a minute heart of dazzling light, as though Earendil had himself come down from the high sunset paths with the last Silmaril upon his brow.”

And in today’s Scripture readings we hear:

Jesus said, ‘John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s.'” (John 5:35-36)

In the darkness shines a light. No darkness can overcome it; the light shines on. It is not the Light, but an embodiment of it: a memory of the stars above, a foretaste of the glory below. It has been prepared for us, because it was known that dark times would rest ahead, even if we did not know how the darkness would manifest itself–or how dark it would really seem. But now, enveloped by the darkness, we most hold fast to the light, and as our hope grows, watch its power wax in the world around us.


Past Reflections
Year A: On the Holding of Hands
Year B: On Waves, Arachnids, and That Which Haunts Our Steps
Year C: On Light