Beloved Transfiguration family,
Christ is Risen!
In 1937, the modern world was gifted its very own mythology, written by J.R.R. Tolkein, who published a small book, containing a great adventure. That adventure is the journey of Bilbo Baggins, “The Hobbit”, who travels “There and Back Again” (both titles for the book), in which he leaves his sleepy provincial life, and ends up taking a central role in the battle between the forces of good and evil, fighting for the whole of this imaginary world, called “Middle Earth”. The story and its subsequent sequels - called “The Lord of the Rings” - would go on to be best-selling books and blockbuster films.
Tolkein was a very devout Roman Catholic Christian, who sought to produce folklore and symbolic fairytales for the modern age. He consciously worked to use these to smooth the path for the Gospel into the hearts of we who live in a world whose soaring technological achievements are the cause of childlike wonderment in their brightest applications, and the deepest existential disorder and dread in their most sinister uses. He saw a world that was actively toppling from its old foundations, and with great insight he wrote a story which would survive the tumble and help to reorient those who survived the fall. We are almost all familiar with these stories. Do we find in them the Hope that is our Resurrected Lord? (Warning: spoilers ahead!)
In the first portion of “The Hobbit”, a great wizard - whose long beard and flowing garb fit the image of a Saint as the church has painted them (or a “god” as the pagan world painted them) - named “Gandalf” is Bilbo Baggins’ companion, teacher, and friend. And in every conflict that Bilbo encounters, Gandalf saves the day. And then, he leaves and Bilbo is alone. But the story continues and we watch as Bilbo steps forward in fear and trepidation. And as though by a slow miracle, he matures and finds himself able to stand on his own. Though gone, Gandalf was not forgotten, and his lessons were ever present with Bilbo who carried on, filling the role Gandalf played for him, all on his own.
My brothers and sisters, this is the story of the Ascension of Christ and Holy Pentecost. The young Church, which followed Christ in his earthly ministry and found His tomb empty, and touched His resurrected Body and spent forty days learning from Him, this fledgeling community was just beginning to live with their God. And then, He said He was leaving. But He also promised them they would be comforted, and made able to continue. In a way, what was for Bilbo the memory of his friend, the Holy Spirit is to the Church; its guide and driving agent. “The Hobbit” helps us understand a bit better what the Feast of Ascension is to the Church. It is a movement from dependence on the Savior, to struggle and growth in absence, and very quickly a maturation and participation in the same work the Savior was doing for us before.
When our Savior ascends to His Father, he doesn’t leave us. He sets a task before us which will challenge us. We will question our faith in his physical absence. We will be attacked to the point of fear and doubt. Monumental tasks we have never encountered will drop before us, and we will need to overcome these obstacles one step at a time. And, like Bilbo Baggins, who had the memory of his friend and guide, we will have the Holy Spirit working within us, transforming us into participants in the work of Salvation.
The great feasts of Ascension and Pentecost are two scenes of this act in the story of Salvation. And it is because of who we become with the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that this scene is considered the “Birth of the Church.” Not because it did not exist before, but because in that moment humanity transformed into what it was always meant to be - cooperative agents, living with God in this world that He created.
We will be afraid in our lives. We will hide in upper rooms. We will doubt. We will underestimate ourselves, and we will think God has left us. And still, God will transform our human frailty and will carry it to His throne of glory. He will always send us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to energize our life. We are capable of incredible feats with the Holy Spirit within us. We are transformed into agents of God’s work. We are evangelists, spreading the good news to the whole world. We have nothing to fear. So, lets continue the journey in our life with Christ. As Tolkein paved a path for the Gospel into all hearts, so Christ has opened the door back to our “Shire”, where we can travel back to at the end of this great adventure called life. Back, that is, to paradise - to a life shared with our God, His Kingdom. This is perfection, holiness, sainthood, and it is available now, for all. Spread the news!
Glory to our God the Father Almighty, His Ascended Son, and the Holy Spirit to descends upon the Church, empowering it for its mission!
In His love,