SFX Bulletin, 22 June 2014: Many of us know JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) as author of The Lord of the Rings books. Not many of us, however, know that Tolkien was a devout Catholic. His devotion extended beyond ritual actions. He searched and pondered his faith and received in turn enlightenment and the power to love. In a letter he wrote to his son about love and marriage, he shared how the Eucharist sustained his relationships:
“Out of the darkness of my life…I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.... There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires” (The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft, pg 219).
The Eucharist taught Tolkien, “the true way of all…loves” – how to truly love with Jesus’ tenderness and compassion; with Jesus’ strength and forgiveness. The kind of love for the weaker other that is so strong that it even compelled Jesus, as he hung on the cross, to ask God’s forgiveness for those who demanded his death because they were ignorant, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk.23:34).
Tolkien wrote into his stories the Eucharist as “viaticum” – the spiritual food needed by all men to journey “via” or towards the “way” to eternal life. In his stories, the Eucharist featured as “lembas” or “waybread”. Tolkien recommended daily Mass and practicing the power of the Eucharist even as we are receiving Jesus. In his uniquely humourous way, he said, “Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing …Also I recommend this as an exercise…make our Communion in circumstances that affront your taste.
Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of …ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those who…the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn…Go to Communion with them (and pray for them)”.
Is not loving those who offend us the first step in stopping our world’s cycle of violence and discord? From his Incarnation to his crucifixion, Jesus gave to us the example and power to love as God loves by forgiving the sinful and weaker other – man - who habitually sin against God.
St. Paul points out that God has given us the Eucharist to help us be this oneness with Him and with each other, “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
Our Holy Father said loving the weaker other gives full meaning to our “Amen” (“So be it”) as we receive Jesus, “The Eucharist calls us to see ...young and old, poor and affluent …as our brothers and sisters…we experience the forgiveness of God and the call to forgive…in the Eucharistic celebration… Christ fills us with his grace, so that our lives may be consonant with our worship of God in the Liturgy” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 12 February 2014).
On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, may we strive anew to be the Christ that we receive. His love and life continues in us from his death on the cross – the “divine paradox” Tolkien pondered and grasped - as we all should, too.