The author of the trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, was devoutly Catholic so there is nothing about this image that should surprise us. And as such, he touched upon the subject of death as a gift and not a curse many times in his writings. In his creation myth, The Silmarillion, it was the evil one who perverted death into something we fear. Tolkien indicated that death is a way back to Paradise to be with God forever, a gift which heals our exile from God. In that book it was the evil one, Morgoth, who made mortals fear death so as to create distance from their Maker. Death then took on an image which was terrifying to creatures that would therefore not want to face it or even talk about it. Tolkien wanted his readers to understand that there is nothing to fear since death opens heaven to us. Even though he set the Lord of the Rings to be ‘after the fall of humanity and before Christ,’ he could not put aside the belief of his own heart, (even if it came through somewhat unintentionally), that Jesus conquered death by dying and rising for us. Therefore as St. Paul writes, "Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55-56)
As Catholics we believe in the communion of saints. That means we believe that all those who are in Heaven, or who are on the way to Heaven in Purgatory, are still very much connected to us. By merit of baptism we are one Body of Christ, forever bonded to one another in love. Death does not break that bond because Christ has conquered death by dying and rising. In fact, the dead are closer to us now than when they were on earth because they are no longer limited by space and time. When a loved one passes away we mourn them because we miss their tangible presence in our lives. We miss seeing them, interacting with them, the sound of their voices, and the touch of their hugs. But we are consoled by the joy of knowing that they are still with us, though not bodily, and that one day we will indeed see them face to face, just as we will see God face to face.
Therefore it is important for us to keep in mind that our faith teaches us that death is but a bodily separation. Our beloved dead are no further from us than the Lord. Just as He is present to us in an unseen way and we rely on faith to know this, our loved ones are also silently close at hand. The holy souls and the saints have a very important role in praying for the world which is in sore need of grace in many areas. It is important to ask them to intercede for us and it is important for us to pray for those in Purgatory to be fully cleansed so that they may enter into heavenly glory with the rest of the holy ones.
In the end, all those who persevere in faith will be with God in Heaven forever. Jesus has come to assure us of that which awaits us. We need to do our part, however, and be ready. We do this by doing good works, loving deeds for the poor, marginalized, outcast, the suffering, and the stranger in our midst; that is, for all our brothers and sisters. We also must remember to ask for forgiveness of our sins. The feasts we celebrate this coming weekend remind us that we are all capable of being holy. They also remind us that we have many, many holy friends who have gone before us who are working hard to help us to find our way home to God; they pray for us to remain steadfast in our own journey. Not only do we celebrate their lives, but we celebrate the reality that one day we will be in Heaven at the banquet table of the Lord with them, singing praise to God. Let us rejoice that we have such a merciful, loving God who wants nothing more than for us to be with Him forever.
©Michele L. Catanese
*Peter Jackson omitted the entire section from his film The Fellowship of the Ring in which Frodo and his hobbit companions met Tom Bombadil. In the book, in the very first paragraph of chapter 8, Frodo had a dream while at the house of Bombadil in which the lines appeared that were attributed to Gandalf in the third film instead.
The photos are mine. The first was taken near Dingle Penisula in Ireland. The second is of the mosaic of Christ Almighty which is inside the Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily. The third photo was taken just outside of Noto, Sicily.
Next is the icon Jesus Christ Holy Forgiveness by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/41-jesus-christ-holy-forgiveness. You can obtain a copy of this or any other icon by Fr. Bill at www.fatherbill.org.
The last is All Saints by Fra Angelico, painted in the 15th century.