The Eye and the Star

“There [Sauron] took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur,
and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise,
an image of malice and hatred made visible;
and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien tells the story of the Dark Lord Sauron, who creates the One Ring to rule them all. In the eyeofsauronbattle to overthrow this darkness, Sauron loses his physical form, coming to remain as a spiritual presence, awaiting the time when he can regain his body, in order that he might once again rule over Middle-Earth. Sauron is said to have a quasi-omnipotence, which is described metaphorically as the Eye of Sauron, for all people could feel his presence, remaining fearful of the lengthy sight of this Dark Lord. In his film adaptations, Peter Jackson decided to present this presence as a literal eye, gigantic and flaming. All people who experience his presence are overcome with this fear, as they are always watched by this all-perceiving eye.

In contrast, there is the light that comes from the Star oearendil-starf Eärendil. This light of this star is said to have come from a Silmaril, which represents the might and beauty of the Valar in Middle-Earth. The Silmarils came from the Two Trees of Valinor, from which came all light at one time. This star is what led the ancestors of the Númenóreans to their lands. The Star of Eärendil is a guiding light of the heavens. It is the light of Eärendil that guarded Frodo on his journey to Mordor. The people of Middle-Earth can ponder of this guiding light, as a reminder from the great ancestors of Middle-Earth, leading them to follow the ways of the Valar, just as Eärendil.

As I ponder these two images, I cannot help but notice a stark contrast. In the Eye of Sauron, a dark fear comes upon an individual, feeling as though they have been violated by all that is evil and fallen. However, at the same time, Sauron’s Eye might seem like a comfort, for they can be seen as they are before this eye. Why try to battle it? Why try to move against this great Power? The Eye becomes a symbol of the futility of fighting. That is how Sauron gains his sympathizers: through fear and false consolation.

On the other side, there is a bright light in the heavens. This light does not impose itself on the beholder, but it does shine so brightly in the sky, so as to prevent the light from any other star. The light bids the viewer to seek its guidance, though does not violate. Although the star’s light is brighter than any other, finding its source in might and beauty, there is no softer yet more beautiful light to behold. We can all look to this great light in the sky, guided just as the Valar lead all to the might and beauty of Ilúvatar – of God.

These two images are not completely unrelated. Morgoth and his greatest servant, Sauron, truly love to take that which is good and corrupt it for their own perverted purposes. They take the good, the true, and the beautiful, turning them into the evil, the lie, and the ugly. This ugliness is more than just a simple physical unattractiveness, however. Sauron takes this beauty, forming an ugliness that penetrates to its very being. Thus, Sauron has taken this unimposing, beautiful guiding light of Eärendil’s Star and imposes his all-seeing presence as an Eye. This Eye penetrates all it sees, piercing to the very center of their being, violating all it sees. People submit to this power because they feel powerless in its sight, even though this power is a mere Shadow. Sauron’s power is commonly referred to as a Shadow, revealing that it possesses no true presence or power that can overcome our beings, without its permission.

Though seemingly distant in the land of Middle-Earth, we should not be completely unfamiliar with these images. (I discuss the following with the recognition that the images are not perfect, due to Tolkien’s aversion to allegory.) Being a good Catholic, Tolkien was quite familiar with the beauty of the Blessed Sacrament, especially as perceived in the monstrance:

monstrance


“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated,

I put before you the one great thing to love on earth:
the Blessed Sacrament …
There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity,
and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”

We look to this soft, unimposing light as the source of all beauty. The angels worship before this light, for all might and beauty come from this light. We look to this light for guidance, but it does not penetrate us without our permission. If we allow it in, we can always count on it to guide us in the right direction. This light and beauty comes from God above, and so we can know that we are led by the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

On the opposite side, we see the imposing light that is the culture of death. In some ways, we see this as the culture that praises abortion or euthanasia. In reality, our entire culture is one of death. They put to death anyone with differing opinions. They put to death any kind of systems of morality, relying completely on what ‘feels’ right. This culture burns among us, imposing itself on all people. It penetrates our beings, feeling as though we can do nothing in response to defend ourselves. Resistance seems futile. Thus, many people give up, for they feel entirely violated, unable to do anything but give in to the darkness, throwing away all that they once held dear. However, we know that this apparent light is merely a Shadow, being a corruption of that which is good. It penetrates us, but we feel we have no other choice. We can seek out the Blessed Sacrament, and allow it to peer into us and to purify us – something beyond the capabilities of this Culture. While this Culture imposes itself upon us, ‘monstrance’ comes from the word meaning ‘to show.’ We are shown True Light and Beauty and given the choice to peer upon it, rather than being violated by this dark culture.

We look to the Culture to save us, but nothing can save us but God alone. May we look the Star of Eärendil, known in this world as the Blessed Sacrament. May we always look to this guiding light to save and protect us from this passing Shadow. May we rely on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, which comes from the True Light of the Blessed Sacrament, and not the Shadowy Culture of Death.

“When we adore, we plug into infinite dynamism and power.
Adoration is more powerful for construction
than nuclear bombs are for destruction.”

-Peter Kreeft

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Let Us Pray…Separately…Together

“Justice is sweet and musical;
but injustice is harsh and discordant.”

-Henry David Thoreau

I want you to imagine your local parish. People are gathering for Sunday Mass. Some of you might have a rosary before Mass. Others might just gather for Mass. Whether it comes to the parts of the Mass or praying the rosary, I want you to imagine the prayer in your parish. “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” “Glory to God in the highest…” Whatever prayer you wish to imagine, do so. Now, I want you to think about your parish specifically. Think about the few young people at Mass, or the elderly people in your parish. Think about the family that sits in front of you, always distracting you. Think about the collective tempo of the praying. If you listen carefully (or even not so carefully), I am sure that it is not so difficult to hear someone, or some people praying a little (or a lot) faster than everyone else. I am sure there might also be people praying a little bit slower.

Why? Why do we do that? Why is it that we have to all pray at our own paces? If we desire to pray according to our own desires, what is the point in praying with others? I really do not want this to be a ranting post, but this truly confounds me. I thoroughly doubt that they are clueless to the fact that they are praying at a different speed. For the sake of the edification of you readers, I will seek to be more positive in this post.

Here is an honest question: Why do we pray together? Why is it different for me to pray a rosary with my parish, than praying a rosary by myself? There are surely a couple aspects to examine. Firstly, as Aristotle said, “man is by nature a social animal.” We were made to be in community with others. Thus, when we pray with others, we join in that community for which we were made. Secondly, the Church is a community of believers. Though the Church is a communion, which goes beyond mere community, community is an important quality of belonging to the Church. Thus, when we take the time to pray together, we acknowledge those around us who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we grow closer to one another, we grow closer to Christ.

When joining the Church, we recognize the importance of the community that we find in the Church. Thus, we seek to take part in that community. Whether at the parish-level, diocesan-level, or an even larger level, we as Christians seek to build up the Body of Christ. One of the most effective means of doing so is prayer. In the Prayer of St. Francis, we pray, “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.” [I honestly don’t know if that is a part of the prayer, but Google told me it was, so I’m going with it.] Thus, discord is a form of disharmony, in which individuals remain focused upon themselves and their own personal part, rather than the communal portion of prayer.

One of my favorite passages from any of Tolkien’s writings is that of the Ainulindalë (the Creation account in the Silmarillion). After creating the Valar (the angels), the Creator enlists their assistance in singing creation into existence. However, Melkor, who mirrors Lucifer in Catholic theology, sows discord and disharmony into the creation song:

“But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar, for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge…Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged. Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Thus, in my understanding of this passage, disharmony is a form of evil, for evil is a privation of a good. When voices are to lift together in prayer to the Lord, there truly is a good that is lacking when there is a discord. We must seek to allow the Lord to touch our disharmony, to sanctify it, and to create a true harmony amongst us. Raising our prayers together to the Lord, we can grow in that harmony within ourselves, with others, and with God. I say it again – we must pray together. We must seek to sow harmony in all we do, but most especially in our efforts for communal prayer. By recognizing our common goal, we can enter into prayer in a greater harmony, seeking that goal truly together.

“How can we live in harmony?
First we need to know we are all
madly in love with the same God.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

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The Light of Eärendil

Frodo-Galadriel

 “’And you, Ringbearer’ she said, turning to Frodo. ‘I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this.’ She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it and rays of white light sprang from her hand. ‘In this phial,’ she said,’ is caught the light of Earendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, as the Fellowship prepares to leave Lothlórien, Galadriel grants each member a gift that she knows will benefit them along their journey. And to Frodo, she provides a vial (or ‘phial,’ (those weird British spellings…)) of the light of Eärendil, a star from Elvish lore. She tells Frodo that this light will provide light for him whenever he finds himself lost in the darkness of the world around him. The light of Eärendil lights up his surroundings when he cannot seem to find his way. The light of this star was said to shine brighter than any other star. While Galadriel was a co-ruler of Lothlórien (the Elvish haven away from the evil emanating from the darkness of Mordor) and the ‘Lady of Light,’ Frodo still remained a mere hobbit, seen as one of the lowest of creatures because they were rarely looked upon, from the Shire, a small rural town out of the way of anything that happened in the world. For Galadriel to give Frodo the light of Eärendil would seem almost like an insult to the sacredness of the star. But the last thing that someone would do is undermine the authority and wisdom of the ‘Lady of the Golden Wood.’ The Lady Galadriel was known throughout all of Middle Earth for her wisdom, purity, and incomparable beauty. While very few people were graced with the opportunity to behold her beauty, all knew of her divine elegance and of the blessed gift it was for the Fellowship to gaze upon her countenance.

The Virgin Mary, Mother of God, has been known as “Blessed” as far back as when the Lord Jesus was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit. Throughout all of Tradition, she has been known for her purity, for her true intimacy with God, and for her beauty. Nothing could compare to the beauty of the Blessed Virgin, because she was free from all sin. There was neither stain on her soul from Original Sin, nor from her own doing. She had the Supernatural Life within her, that life that God desires for each and every one of us. While God desires perfection for us, Mary had achieved and sustained that perfection throughout all of her life.

Mary-GraceWhen the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he greeted her by saying, “Hail, full of grace!” For those of you that do not know what grace is, grace is God’s very life given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Grace is a gift. There is nothing that we can do throughout all of our lives that would deserve the gift of grace. Grace is the Supernatural Life of God within us. And by proclaiming that Mary was full of grace, Gabriel was proclaiming that truth that Mary had within her all grace. There was no part of her not touched by the grace of God. She was so filled with the grace of God, the Supernatural Life of God, that there is no way that she could have had any more. By giving all of His grace to Mary, God is granting Mary the ability to give the grace to whomever she sees fit. And Mary, free of sin, remains one of our models for perfection – the other obviously being Christ. And so God grants Mary the blessing of all of His grace, that she may grant that grace to whomever she believes and knows to be worthy of God’s life within them.

Now, faith is not something of human origin. We could not arrive at faith on our own. While we may arrive at certainty in God’s belief through reason alone, we cannot even believe with that faith if it were not given to us from above. Faith is a gift from God. Faith results from God desiring for our assent to him. We only have faith because God wants us to have faith. Throughout our lives, we always encounter different kinds of darkness. Whether it is times of sadness from loss, or times of confusion from things that the world is telling us, life can often be filled with darkness. As my dear friend Westley says, “Life is pain… Anyone who says differently is selling something” (The Princess Bride). Everyone knows that there is darkness in this world. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is trying to sell you something, whether that be products, or ideas, or values. While everyone will inevitably experience darkness during this life, we have a foolproof method to bring light into the darkness: faith. Faith helps us to see the clichéd ‘silver lining.’ Faith helps us to understand that God has a bigger and better plan for us. Faith helps us to sift through the lies of this world in order to discover the truth that is found in God, Creator of the Universe. Faith is man’s acceptance of God’s gift to allow us to see the truth, HIS truth upon which the world is based. Faith is when man puts his trust in the Lord so that he may abide in the truth.

Because faith is a gift from God, because faith is a grace, Mary is given the duty to grant us the grace and the faith that we need. Just as Galadriel gives Frodo the light of Eärendil that he needs, Mary gives each of us the faith that we need. Frodo, a hobbit, is seen as just a lowly creature of very little importance. He really did nothing to deserve the gift of the light of Eärendil. But Galadriel still gives him that gift nonetheless, because she knows that he needs it and believes that he will use it. Each and every one of us can see ourselves in Frodo’s place. We are just lowly creatures, of very little importance, and who screw up A LOT. And I mean, A LOT. Sometimes I wonder: Can we do anything right? But I digress. We are just lowly servants of God; we are nothing really special. And yet Mary sees something in us. She knows that we live in a dark, dark world, a world where the light seems to be nonexistent at times. Mary grants us the light of faith to survive in that darkness. We are not perfect. We often put ourselves in difficult and dangerous situations, just as Frodo does. But if we can learn to use that light of faith well, we can light up the caves we wander through and fight off our own personal Shelobs. We all have them. We just need to learn how to use our light of Eärendil. God gives us that light; why not use it?

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