Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. One of the most successful films of all time is ‘Lord of the Rings’ -an epic series of three parts based on the novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a devout Catholic who allowed his Catholic imagination to shape the story he tells in his classic novel. On reading the book or watching the films, many of the key themes of Scripture and the spiritual life are recognisable. Tolkien deliberately included these in his drama – the battle between good and evil, the corruption of humans by power, life as pilgrimage, community, transformation, redemption, etc. It’s all there. There is however, one feature of the story that powerfully connects with the readings from Mass this Sunday. The film centres on a ring of power that is in the possession of a young man (or Hobbitt) named Frodo. Frodo’s task is to carry the ring to the only place where it can be destroyed which is called Mordor. He is accompanied on this dangerous journey by his friend and fellow Hobbitt, Sam.
As Frodo and Sam leave the comfort of their home, knows as the shire, they are tempted many times to return. The challenge is too dangerous, too severe and too exhausting. But then something remarkable happens. Frodo and Sam meet Elves who give them a special bread to eat. Unlike ordinary bread, this bread stays fresh for months and has extraordinary nutritional value that sustains Frodo and Sam on their life changing journey.
For Tolkien, this bread he called Lembas, was symbolic of the Eucharist. As a Catholic, Tolkien believed that the Eucharist was food for the journey of life that sustained those who shared in it and who believed in Christ. Unlike other breads and foods, the Eucharist was not ‘food that cannot last’ but ‘food that endures to eternal life’. In this way, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is like an extension of the story of the Jews grumbling for bread in the first reading and the Gospel story of Jesus who teaches us that ‘I am the bread of Life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry’.
Notice how Tolkien’s story and the two readings this weekend all have to do with a journey that people undertake that calls them to trust God and be transformed in the process. In the first reading from the book of Exodus, the people of Israel have left slavery in Egypt only to wish they were back there because at least they had enough to eat. Through Moses, God says to them that they must not to back but forward and that he would provide them with food for the journey if only they would have faith. In the Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are also on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Again, there is a shortage of food which is Jesus’ opportunity to teach about who he is and the strength and spiritual power that comes from being united to him and receiving him in the Eucharist. In the Lord of the Rings with Frodo and Sam, the disciples are also on a epic journey on which they discover who they are, embrace their mission and learn the trust needed to fulfil it.
Friends, on the journey of life we too need food and strength. This is the journey that God calls us to undertake and in the words of St Paul in the second reading, to undergo a ‘spiritual revolution’ that invites us ‘to a new self, renewed in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth’.
Holidays, entertainment, new places and new experiences are all fine in themselves but still, the words of Jesus ring true: ‘Do not work for the food that cannot last’. Our spirits hunger for something deeper and eternal. I heard on the radio several times during the week, a warning from the Road Safety Authority urging drivers to pull over and rest for tiredness kills. For us, the Eucharist is meant to be a rest area for our bodies and spirits where we can stop, rest and eat the food that gives us strength for the journey ahead. It is the gift of God’s love, the bread of life and today we can receive it with gratitude and joy.