War, Tolkien, & Lent


War in the Ukraine as well as its possible escalation in both intensity and in the number of participating nations has us all deeply concerned. Understandably, even the political leaders of the world struggle to find an appropriate response. Are sanctions enough? Would intervention make matters worse? As ordinary citizens, most of us likely feel a strong sense of hopelessness in the face of such dangerous times. What can we possibly do?

As Catholics we know that we can offer prayer and sacrifice. We believe that prayer and sacrifice can change the course of history. Encouragingly, I have seen and heard of people organizing adoration and prayer rallies for peace. We should increase our effort to promote prayer for peace.

However, I would like to offer an additional suggestion that could easily be overlooked. We should work for our own conversion. This is where Tolkien and Lent converge.

J. R. R. Tolkien understood that at the center of the human drama is each individual’s decision for good over evil. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is replete with such decisions. Numerous individuals had to overcome the temptation to take Sauron’s evil ring for their own purposes – such as Gandalf, Galadriel, and Faramir to name a few. Galadriel’s decision was perhaps the most dramatic,

‘You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’ She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad. ‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’[i]

Galadriel’s rejecting temptation did not simply keep her from becoming a dark queen, it contributed to the good in Middle Earth and fortified the Fellowship in its mission. The individual’s decision for good matters!

Fidelity to God’s will in our lives benefits those around us. On one hand it provides others with a good example to follow. However, the benefit goes deeper than simply giving witness. As Catholics we are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, therefore the moral goodness or the spiritual health of one member affects all.

Lent is a moment for the Church – as individuals and as an entire Church - to convert. Our Lenten resolutions are geared to turning our hearts from evil and towards good. They are for forgetting self a bit more so that we can love a bit more. In his Ash Wednesday homily, Pope Francis writes,

‘Prayer, charity and fasting are not medicines meant only for ourselves but for everyone: they can change history. First, because those who experience their effects almost unconsciously pass them on to others; but above all, because prayer, charity and fasting are the principal ways for God to intervene in our lives and in the world.[iii]

If we want to build a world of peace – political action may be needed. More essential still is the ongoing conversion of each one of us. This Lent we truly have our work cut out for us.

May God grant us conversion, and may he grant us peace.

Fr. John Bullock, LC


Image: Ring Lord Of The Rings Hobbit - Free photo on Pixabay by paxillop

[i] Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (pp. 365-366). HMH Books. Kindle Edition. [ii] Catechism of the Catholic Church. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Kindle Edition, n. 791. [iii] https://catholicsstrivingforholiness.org/pope-francis-2022-ash-wednesday-homily/

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