St. Holbytla’s Monastery

Reading Tolkien in the Light of Faith

Elvish Lembas and Eucharistic Fasting: the story of Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa

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Near the end of their journey to Mt. Doom, Frodo and Sam fed on lembas alone:

The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die.  It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats.  And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as the travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with oother foods.  It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.

The Elvish lembas is a type or figure for the Holy Eucharist.  After the priest pronounce the consecration of the bread and wine at mass, they cease to be bread and wine.  What appears to be bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ.  This mystery is called Transubstantiation, which is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows:

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”206

1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ. 2

Because Catholics receive truly the Body and Blood of Christ during Communion, it is fitting that before they receive Christ, they must fast:

For many centuries it was the practise of those who were to receive the Holy Eucharist to fast from midnight.  With the changing cirumstances of modern society, and the advent of evening Masses, Pope Pius XII modified the fast in 1953, stipulating that solid food could be taken up to three hours before communion.  (Baronius Roman missal 1962, p. 101)

In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the fasting was relaxed to one hour:

Anyone intending to receive the Most Holy Eucharist must abstain from all food and drink (with the sole exception of water and medicine) for at least one hour before Holy Communion. (Baronius Roman Missal 1962, p. 101)

There are saints who ate nothing except the Holy Communion. One of these is Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa who was declared blessed last April 25, 2004. Our Lord told her:

“Keep me company in the Blessed Sacrament. I remain in the tabernacle night and day, waiting to give my love and grace to all who would visit me. But so few come. I am so abandoned, so lonely, so offended…. Many…do not believe in my existence; they do not believe that I live in the tabernacle. They curse me. Others believe, but do not love me and do not visit me; they live as if I were not there… You have chosen to love me in the tabernacles where you can contemplate me, not with the eyes of the body, but those of the soul. I am truly present there as in Heaven, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.”

“You will not take food again on earth. Your food will be my Flesh; your drink will be my Divine Blood

“You are living by the Eucharist alone because I want to prove to the world the power of the Eucharist and the power of my life in souls.” (Unity Publishing)

Blessed Alexandrina died on 13th October 1955, having received nourishment only from Holy Communion for more than thirteen years. This is what the medical report said:

“Her abstinence from solids and liquids was absolute during all that time. We testify also that she retained her weight, and her temperature, breathing, blood pressure, pulse and blood were normal while her mental faculties were constant and lucid and she had not, during these forty days, any natural necessities…The laws of physiology and biochemistry cannot account for the survival of this sick woman…” (Unity publishing)

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

October 21, 2009 at 6:30 am

Galadriel’s three locks of hair and the relics of the saints

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Galadriel asked Gimli what gift he would like to have.  Gimli said none.  But Galadriel insisted.  So Gimli named his gift:

‘There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,’ said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. ‘Nothing, unless it might be– unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.’

The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. ‘It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,’ she said; ‘yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous. And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak? But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?’

‘Treasure it, Lady,’ he answered, ‘in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smthies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.’

Three locks of hair encased in an imperishable crystal.  This reminds us of the relics of the saints.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia,

The word relics comes from the Latin reliquiae (the counterpart of the Greek leipsana) which already before the propagation of Christianity was used in its modern sense, viz., of some object, notably part of the body or clothes, remaining as a memorial of a departed saint.

Catholics treasure relics.  When St. Polycarp of Smyrna died, the people of Smyrna took care of his body:

We took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Many relics are encased in crystal, like that used by Gimli for Galadriel’s hair:

A reliquary (also referred to as a shrine or by the French term chasse) is a container for relics. These may be the physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures. The authenticity of any given relic is often a matter of debate; for that reason, some churches require documentation of the relic’s provenance.

A philatory is a transparent reliquary designed to contain and exhibit the bones and relics of saints. Another form of reliquary is called a monstrance. This style of reliquary has a viewing portal by which to view the relic contained inside.

The Catholic teaching on the veneration of relics is given by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXV), which enjoins its bishops and pastors to instruct their flock as follows:

The holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ—which bodies were the living members of Christ and ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’ (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men, so that they who affirm that veneration and honour are not due to the relics of the saints, or that these and other sacred monuments are uselessly honoured by the faithful, and that the places dedicated to the memories of the saints are in vain visited with the view of obtaining their aid, are wholly to be condemned, as the Church has already long since condemned, and also now condemns them.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

October 11, 2009 at 9:11 am

St. Wenceslaus, Aragorn, and Christ: the Army of the Dead

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Last September 28 is the Feast of the St. Wenceslaus (907-935 A.D.), the Good King Wenceslaus, patron Saint of Bohemia and parts of the Czech Republic.  St. Wenceslaus is the subject of many legends (Wikipedia):

There are many legends about King Wenceslaus. An old one claims a huge army of knights sleep inside Blaník, a mountain in the Czech Republic. The knights will wake and under the command of St. Wenceslaus will help the Motherland when it is in ultimate danger (see also King in the mountain legends).

There is a similar great legend in Prague which says that when the Motherland is in danger or in its darkest times and close to ruin, the equestrian statue of King Wenceslaus in Wenceslaus Square will come to life, raise the army sleeping in Blaník, and upon crossing the Charles Bridge his horse will stumble and trip over a stone, revealing the legendary sword of Bruncvík. With this sword, King Wenceslaus will slay all the enemies of the Czechs, bringing peace and prosperity to the land.

These legends are similar to the summoning of Aragorn of the Army of the Dead, as prophesied by Malbeth the Seer, in the days of Averdui, last king at Fornost (Return of the King, pp. 43-44):

Over the land there lies a long shadow,
westward reaching wings of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tombs of kings
doom approaches. The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers:
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be? Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him;
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead.

Christ, the King of the Living and of the Dead, also went to the Paths of the Dead and preached the Good News to those who died, awaiting the messiah.  As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.478 This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.

633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.480 Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”:481 “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”482 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.483

634 “The gospel was preached even to the dead.”484 The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”485 Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Sacrament of Penance: Confession of Pippin to Gandalf

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The Sacrament of Penance has three parts: (1) Contrition, (2) Confession of Sins, and (3) Satisfaction.  These three parts are found in the confession of Pippin, with Gandalf acting as a priest. (Two Towers pp. 219-220)

First, the penitent will say, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”   In the case of Pippin, he said, “Gandalf! Forgive me!”

Second, the priest will not forgive the penitent unless he confesses his sins in number and kind.  As Gandalf said to Pippin, “Forgive you?… Tell me first what you have done!”  So Pippin confesses his sins: “I, I took the ball and looked at it… and saw things that frightened me.  And I wanted to go away, but I couldn’t.  And then he came and questioned me; and he looked at me, and, and, that is all I remember.”

To determine whether the sin is mortal, three parameters are used:

  1. Serious matter
  2. Knowledge or firm belief that the act is seriously wrong prior to committing the act
  3. Full consent of the will

(Check the Guide to Confession in Angelfire.)  So to determine whether Pippin committed mortal sin, Gandalf asked probing questions: “Thant won’t do…. What did you see, and what did you say… Speak!”  And Pippin recounted what he see and heard.  And finally he said, “I don’t remember anything else.”

Third, the priest will make his judgement on the gravity of the sin.  As Gandalf said to Pippin, “All right!… Say no more! You have taken no harm.  there is no lie in your eyes, as I feared.”

After this, the priest will give his advice.  In the case of Gandalf, he said: “Lie there and rest, if you can, Pippin!… Trust me.  If you feel an itch in your palms again, tell me of it!  Such things can be cured.  but anyway, my dear hobbit, don’t put a lump of rock under my elbow again!  Now, I will leave you two together for a while.”

When Gandalf and Pippin rode Shadowfax from Orthanc towards Minas Tirith, Gandalf gave Pippin a short lecture on sin and conscience.  Pippin said, “I wish I had known all this before… I had no notion of what I was doing.”  And Gandalf replied, “Oh yes, you had… You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen.  I did not tell you all this before, because it is only by musing on all that has happened that I have at last understood, even as we ride together.  But if I had spoken sooner, it would not have lessened your desire, or made it easier to resist.  On the contrary!  No, the burned hand teaches best.  After that advice about fire goes to the heart.”

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

August 29, 2009 at 12:02 pm

The Stone of Erech at the Ionosphere Building of Manila Observatory

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I am staying at the Ionosphere buiding of the Manila Observatory for more than a year now.  The building looks like a block of brick on the sea of grass.  The windows are squares and the doors rectangles.  It is stuffy inside for all the windows are closed.  It smelled like the Great Smials of Michel Delving when I first came here.  The old hobbit who lived here was Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J.  But since he is past 80 and physically weak, though his mind is still sharp, and spends his time at the Jesuit Infirmary of the Ateneo de Manila University, I was asked to man the place in his stead.  I just arrived from the infirmary; I visited him there for a few minutes to tell him about what happenned to his old computer files.  He is glad that somebody is taking care of his files.  Today marks the first time that a bond is established between us, that of a teacher and a student.  I still have much to learn from the old hobbit.  I promised to visit him several times during the week at about 2:00 in the afternoon.

Beside the ionosphere building is a giant black sphere (picture here).  It looks black because of algae and dust.  But it is actually white: it is made of fiber glass.  The sphere reminds me of the spherical mushrooms around here with the size of a fist.  They look like white balls at first, then they die and turn black.

Many are wondering what is inside this black sphere.  In its old glory, the black sphere houses some instruments for knowing the portents of heavens, something like the Stones of Seeing of Orthanc.  But there are no one to operate these machines or fix them.  The Numenorians are already gone.  There used to be many Spanish Jesuits here in 1870’s until the American Jesuits replaced them in 1900’s.  They all came from over the sea.  Tall as the sea kings of old they are.  But today only two American Jesuits are left: Fr. Skelsky, S.J. the experimentalist, and Fr. McNamara, S.J. the theoretical physicist.  As Saruman said: “The Elder days are gone.  The Middle days are passing.  The Younger days are beginning.”

There is nothing inside the black sphere of death, but old equipments awaiting to see the light of the sun.  Like Aragorn I say: “Keep your hoards and secrets hidden in the Accursed Years!”  But frankly, I am also curious to see what is inside.  Like Pippin with an itch to get a peek at the Stone of Orthanc, I waited for the time for the little door to open.  But it is always closed.

Whenever someone asks me what that black sphere is, I simply tell them it is the “black sphere of death.”  But if he speaks Tolkien, I shall say: It is the Stone of Erech.  And I shall recount the tale of the lost years:

Long had the terror of the Dead lain upon that hill and upon the empty fields about it.  For upon the top stood a black stone, round as a great globe, the height of a man, though its half was buried in the ground.  Unearthly it looked, as though it had fallen from the sky, as some believed; but those who remembered still the lore of Westernesse told that it had been brought out of the ruin of Numenor and there set by Isildur at his landing.  None of the people of the valley dared to approach it, nor would they dwell near; for they said that it was a trysting place of the Shadow-men and there they would gather in times of fear, thronging round the Stone and whispering. (Return of the King, p.  53)

Then I shall cry out: “Oathbreakers, why have ye come?”  And the proper response?  “To fulfil our oath and have peace.”

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

August 21, 2009 at 8:15 am

Gollum and Frodo at the Crack of Doom: Warnings of Christ on Hell

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Frodo reached the Crack of Doom but he failed to throw the Ring into the Fire.  Instead, he claimed the Ring for himself.  But Gollum was there.  He fought Frodo for his Precious and in the end got his prize:

Suddenly Sam saw Gollum’s long hands draw upwards to his mouth; his white fangs gleamed, and then snapped as they bit.  Frodo gave a cry, and there he was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge.  But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle.  It shown now as if verily it was wrought of living fire.

‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried.  ‘My precious! O my precious!’ and with than, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell.  Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.

This scene reminds us of the words of Christ on the reality of our soul and the danger of eternal damnation in Hell:

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? (Mt 16:26)

Gollum gained His Precious–the only thing he worshipped as God.  ‘Precious, precious, precious!’ he cried out as the cherubims cried ”Holy, holy, holy’ before the Lord God in the Book of Revelation (4:8).  But what does it profit Gollum if he gains his Precious, but loses his very life.

Frodo, on the other hand, was spared.  His finger fell into the fire, but he saved himself.  As Christ said in the Book of Matthew:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. (Mt 5-29-30)

Frodo by himself could not cut off his own finger.  But God allowed the malice of Gollum to work and brought a greater good out of it.   Call it Justice.  Call it Mercy.  Call it Grace.

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

July 24, 2009 at 8:35 am

The shoulder wound of Frodo and Christ

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It is related in the annals of Clairvaux that St. Bernard asked our Lord which was His greatest unrecorded suffering, and Our Lord answered:

I had on My Shoulder, while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound, which was more painful than the others, and which is not recorded by men. Honor this wound with thy devotion, and I will grant thee whatsoever thou dost ask through its virtue and merit. And in regard to all those who shall venerate this Wound, I will remit to them all their venial sins, and will no longer remember their mortal sins. (Catholic Online)

Frodo also has a shoulder wound–the wound inflicted by the Witch-King’s blade in Weathertop (6 October 3018):

At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground and he heard himself crying out loud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!  At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy.  A shrill cry rang out in the night; and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder. (Fellowship of the Ring p. 221)

Even a year after, on the 6th of October, as Frodo and company passed through the Ford of Bruinen where the Ringwraiths were washed away by the flood, his pain recurred:

‘Are you in pain, Frodo?’ said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo’s side.

“Well, yes I am,’ said Frodo. ‘It is my shoulder.  The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me.  It was a year ago today.’

‘Alas there are some wounds that cannot wholly be cured,’ said Gandalf.

Written by Quirino M. Sugon Jr

July 17, 2009 at 2:57 am