Saturday, March 13, 2021

Learning from Frodo’s Laetare Sunday

In The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo has the task of destroying the One Ring, an object of great evil, which the wizard Sauron seeks in order to use its power to subdue all of Middle-Earth. Towards the end of his quest, Frodo must attempt to go, with his faithful servant Sam and his treacherous guide Gollum, into Mordor, the land of Sauron himself, because the only place where the Ring can be destroyed is in the fiery mountain called the Cracks of Doom, standing in the very heart of Sauron’s realm.

In many ways, the end of Frodo’s journey into Mordor can be likened to an especially tough Lenten experience. Frodo has minimal food and drink, very little sleep and rest, and almost no comfort. He travels through bleak, dark landscapes, where he faces great trials of the spirit and the constant temptation to give in to evil desires.

But about halfway through all of this, Frodo gets a break. He meets Faramir, who takes him and Sam to a safe place, where he gives them good food and drink, some time to rest, and a comfortable place to sleep. They have a chance to assess their progress so far and think about their plans for the rest of their journey. During this interlude, Frodo gathers the strength to get going again.

If Frodo’s journey is like Lent, the respite in his journey can be likened to Laetare Sunday, which we are celebrating this weekend. Laetare Sunday is named after the Latin word for “rejoice.” We are rejoicing because our Lenten journey is halfway done. We are drawing closer and closer to the Easter joy of the Resurrection. Laetare Sunday is a good opportunity to assess our progress so far and to adjust our plans as needed so that we can carry on with our Lenten discipline. On Laetare Sunday, we can also give ourselves just a bit of a break so that we can gather enough strength to press on.

Frodo faced the hardest part of his journey at the very end, after his respite. Deprivation, temptation, grave spiritual danger. We too will face immense challenges – loss of focus, the desire to quit, the spiritual attacks of the enemy. So let us ground ourselves, on this Laetare Sunday. Let us celebrate how far we have come and ask the help of the Holy Spirit in going further.

In the story, the Elves give Frodo and Sam a waybread called Lembas, which sustains them during the trials of their quest. Lembas is their only food at the end of their journey, as they battle the very heart of darkness and defeat the greatest evil in Middle-Earth. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, had intended Lembas to be a symbol of the Eucharist, which sustains us as we face the vicissitudes of life. Just as Frodo and Sam relied on Lembas to help them through the final phase of their journey, let us turn to the Eucharist to sustain us in the remainder of Lent, as we seek to defeat all evil inclinations in our hearts and give ourselves completely to Christ.

Photo Credit: Lady Bird Johnson Trail in the Redwood Forest, Califronia. By Zoltan Abraham (c) 2013.