|image by Jorge Arimany|
Today is March 25th, and any good Catholic knows what today is:
It's the day that One Ring was destroyed in Mordor!
This is from the official timeline found in the appendices of The Return of the King. This was the day that Frodo and Samwise made it to the Crack of Doom and where Frodo was finally fully corrupted by the One Ring. It was in this moment that all seemed lost, that the great quest had reached its end, only to have the world fall into darkness. But then Gollum arrived and bit off Frodo's finger and stole the One Ring and subsequently fell into the fiery pits where the One Ring was destroyed forever.
This moment is an example of what Tolkien called the "eucatastrophe." The word was invented by Tolkien himself as the opposite of its root word: catastrophe. In a "catastrophe," everything seems to be going well when destruction and darkness come seemingly out of nowhere. Tolkien did not deny the reality catastrophe in life. As someone who survived WWI, he was intimately aware of how the rug can be pulled out from under us and great darkness can cover us.
But Tolkien was not a pessimist. Nor was he an optimist. He was a realist. This is why The Lord of the Rings is still so widely-read and so relevant. It is real in a way that most books are not. And as a part of that reality, Tolkien acknowledged the eucatastrophe in life. What happened at the Crack of Doom is not mere wish fulfillment. It is what happens. The "eucatastrophe" is when everything seems lost and then victory and joy appear seemingly out of nowhere.
Why did Tolkien believe this?
Because a great eucatastrophe has historically occurred on March 25th.
March 25th is the feast of the Annunciation. It is the moment when Christ was Incarnate of the Virgin Mary.
Let us remember the historical circumstances. Augustus Caesar had declared himself dictator for life and the iron grip of the Roman Empire held tightly to much of the Western World. Appointed to run the Promised Land for the Romans was Herod the Great. This is a man who would put friends and family to death out of his own paranoia. He was hated by the Jewish people because of his greed and cruelty. The Chosen People were an occupied people, under the thumb of a evil king who himself was the vassal of a foreign tyrant. They were a people of no independence, no political strength, and no earthly power compared to their mighty Roman occupiers.
And it was in this situation that the King of Kings was to come into the world.
Everything about their world at the time would indicate that they were a people in decline. But with the coming of Jesus, all who enter into the covenant with Abraham through faith will be part of an everlasting kingdom that has already outlived the transitory Roman Empire.
And this is a good reflection for us today in 2020.
A month ago, life was normal for most of us. We were working or going to school and going through the motions of everyday life. But now our world has suffered a catastrophe. Life as we know it has been put on hold and we are constantly inundated with worse and worse news.
But Tolkien would remind us not to despair.
For in the midst of all this darkness, God may yet be planning some great eucatastrophe.
He has done it before.
He can do it again.
Today, let us remember that today, God became one of us and brought a light into our darkness that will guide us from the shadow into the sunlight.