Tolkien wanted to use his literary skills to propagate Christianity. Serving in the military during World War I, he saw human disfunction on full display and was not the least bit naive about the human condition; he knew the power of sin. And so, at the heart of The Lord of the Rings is a story of human depravity:
- You have the ring, identified as a ring of power;
- Sauron (a Satanic character) wants this ring of power back - its an extension of him and its been lost - with it he will be able to impose upon the world a terrible oppression;
- St. Augustine defined sin as the libido dominandi - the lust to dominate - power is at the heart of sin (cf. The City of God, Book One);
- What does sin do to you? It empties you out. Evil’s not a thing; it’s a lack; a privation. Sauron is merely an eye surrounded by flame; orcs are deformed elves; ring-wraiths are shrouded in cloaks with nothing inside; Mordor is a wasteland;
- Another character, Gollum, was once a hobbit (human-like creatures around 2 to 4 feet tall), but through his own sin he had become deformed.
What’s the solution? And here you see how deeply Catholic Tolkien is - somebody has to take this ring of power and destroy it in its own country - and that someone is the least likely; the most unassuming. In the story it is another hobbit named Frodo; in reality it is Christ. He battles evil by allowing it to spend itself on Him; He journeys into the land of sin and death and swallows it up in the victory of His Cross and Resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
The question I thus pose to each of us is: What is your ring of power? What dominates you? What has power over you, preventing you from existing as a human being fully alive (cf. John 10:10)? In the introductory monologue of the first movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we hear that “the hearts of men are easily corrupted and the ring of power has a mind of its own; it betrays those who possess it…to their death.” When Sauron forged the ring at Mount Doom he poured into it his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life, as the inscription on the ring puts it, “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.” Sauron loses the ring, and to each who subsequently acquire it, it wreaks havoc on their life. I refer again to the character Gollum, he came into possession of the ring - or should I say, the ring possessed him - and as the introductory monologue of the movie continues, we hear of its effects: it consumed him; it gave unnatural long life; it poisoned his mind; it abandoned him. Despite that, what does Gollum call the ring? “My Precious.” It hollowed him out, made him a mere husk of a hobbit, living naked in a harsh and desolate wilderness, completely taken in by the tool of his oppression! What is your ring of power? What dominates you? What has power over you?
- The unbridled acquisition of wealth and possessions?
- The abuse of alcohol?
- Drug use?
- Being violent toward others; abusive?
- Viewing pornography?
- What about an indifference to God and His Church?
What is the one ring that rules us and thus binds us? Take a moment and honestly take stock of yourself and identify your ring of power.
Thank God, then, for this blessed season of Lent, when we, through our Lord Jesus Christ, take up battle against spiritual evils, asking Him to arm us with weapons of self-restraint (cf. Collect for Ash Wednesday). Being honest about that one ring of power is difficult, isn’t it? When confronted with Christ, we have to make a choice. I think we fear deep down to let go of that ring because God is a purifying presence (cf. Genesis 3:8-9). We delude ourselves into thinking that hiding from God and being alone with our favorite pathology will fulfill us. But it will ultimately betray us; it is hollowing us out and will eventually abandon us. We’re like Gollum, we so covet our personal desires that eventually they own us, and if we let go, we scream, for the act of separating that pathology from our person is painful. The familiar and the comfortable is gone, but we are free! And in that freedom God in Christ can perfect us - pardon for sin and a newness of life after the likeness of Christ can be gained (cf. Blessing of Ashes on Ash Wednesday). What must we do though? We must steadfastly observe Lent (as the blessing reminds us); reaching out with joy to grasp God’s hand so that we can walk more readily in His ways (Prayer at the Conclusion of the Intercessions for Ash Wednesday) and make that journey through the valley of the shadow of death (cf. Psalm 23:4) to Mount Doom where we can cast into its fire that which previously bound us in the darkness of sin. A steadfast observance of Lent will see us at the Sacred Triduum being able to make the words St. Paul our own: We glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered (Galatians 6:14).
David J. Conrad