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Exploring Tolkien's Theology: The Battle for Middle-earth by Fleming Rutledge

Thematically, Fleming Rutledge's The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings (Eerdmans Publishing, 2004) makes an excellent companion piece to Stratford Caldecott's The Power of the Ring(Crossroad Publishing, 2005) which I read earlier this year and inspired the formation of The Servants of the Secret Fire. Both books unveil Christian themes in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings—Caldecott also explores Tolkien's other writings—what makes Rutledge's work unique from other Christian explorations of Tolkien is that Rutledge follows the narrative as it is written of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to follow a deeper narrative, beneath the surface of the text, of the hidden battle between The Powers of Evil, Sin and Death, and God in the interior spirit and will of the characters.

Rutledge has done more to make real the supernatural drama of LotR, and frankly the Christian life, than I've previously encountered, perhap…

Recommended Reading: Advent

A little late in the game, but here are a few titles that I recommend for Advent reading:


Reed of God by Caryll Houselander (Ave Maria Press, 2006) is the most classically "spiritual reading" of these Advent readings. Houselander uses the lens of Mary's life to talk about being drawn deeper into life in Christ, beginning with becoming empty, like a reed that will become shaped by God to become a flute that sings His glory.

Mary's Advent emptiness made straight the path that Christ might be conceived by the Holy Spirit in her; our emptiness makes way for Christ's indwelling of our hearts. Mary gives the gift of her flesh to the Son of God that he might become flesh; likewise we have become the Body of Christ. Several of the reflections on the Incarnation as being the gift of Mary's flesh affected my own love of Mary but of these the most arresting was Houselander's reflection that by receiving her flesh, Jesus also receives her death without which there is …

Mystagogy Reading: Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread

Reading Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread is a continuation of my reading the Bibliography from Stratford Caldecott's The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God as personal mystagogy. 
Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread: A Guide to the Mass by Fr. Francis Randolph (Ignatius Press, 1998) is a very instructive description of the elements of the mass in the order they're celebrated, with a little prescriptive opinion thrown in to spice things up. The book is non-technical, free of theological or liturgical jargon, and easy to read. Fr Randolph is clear and concise in explaining the parts of the Mass, and several of his insights and explanations have altered the way I will be present to Mass and even the way I live out my every day participation in Christ's priestly office for the better. I recommend this to just about anyone who desires greater understanding and deeper participation of the Most Holy Sacrament. 
Years ago, I led a program called Religious Reflec…

Mystagogy Reading: Heretics by G.K. Chesterton

Reading Heretics by G.K. Chestserton is a continuation of my reading the Bibliography from Stratford Caldecott's The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God as personal mystagogy.

I am not new to Chesterton, and I'm sure to no one's surprise, his Heretics inspires much self-reflection on the reader's assumptions and acceptance of modern philosophies, ideas and notions while provoking smiles with his paradoxes and ever-present humor. The book is not a description or refutation of formal Christian heresies— such as Nestorianism or Docetism—but reveals and criticizes the fallacious dogmas and ideals of the modern age including the glorification of progress, scientism, wit & solemnity for their own sakes, technocracy, tourism, aestheticism, modern ritualism, and bad democracy. While the essays within take on specific "heretics" of note from Mr Chesterton's time, each individual addressed is merely a lens by which Chesterton focuses his insight and…

On Priests & the Universal Call to Sainthood: Their Cross to Bear

In Adrienne von Speyr's The Cross: Word and Sacrament, von Speyr links each of Christ's seven last words to one of the Seven Sacraments; positing that each "word" is a blessing from the Cross upon that sacrament, a commentary, and above all an intimate connection between the Paschal and Sacramental Mysteries. "If the Lord's words are all a piece of his life, and if he surrenders his life on the Cross for His Church, it follows that the Lord's words from the Cross are closely knit to, parallel to, the sacraments, those vessels of the life of the divine grace which overflows from the Cross into the Church." The links are as follows:

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do - PenanceYou will be with me this day in Paradise - Anointing of the SickBehold your son, Behold your mother - MarriageMy God, My God! Why have you forsaken me - Holy OrdersI thirst - EucharistIt is finished - BaptismInto your hands, Lord, I commend my Spirit - Confirmatio…

Mystagogy Reading: The Cross: Word and Sacrament

Reading The Cross: Word and Sacrament is a continuation of my reading the Bibliography from Stratford Caldecott's The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God as personal mystagogy.

Adrienne von Speyr's The Cross: Word and Sacrament (Ignatius Press 1983) is a profound reflection on Jesus’ Last Words after he is Crucified. She connects each saying from the depths of his suffering sacrifice to one of the Sevens Sacraments. These reflections connect the Paschal Mystery to the sacramental life and mission of the Church bringing new fruit to meditation on both.

The book is very short (63 pages) and could be read in a single sitting, but each chapter deserves at least a day of reflection and prayer each. I see myself returning to this time and time again in the week leading up to Good Friday, devoting each day to the sacramental fruits of these mysteries. With an RCIA group sufficiently Catechized, I would also consider using this as the primary guiding text for a Holy Saturda…

The Daily Examen

The Daily Examen, bringing the events and encounters of your day to prayer, is an ancient practice exhorted nigh universally among the Catholic spiritual writers I've read. Those who write about the Examen consider it an indispensable tool of growth in the spiritual life, and so all should strive to make it a part of their spiritual exercises. As such, it is one of the spiritual practices to be done by Servants of the Secret Fire.

The examen is sometimes also referred to as the Examination of Conscience, but I tend to avoid that term when talking about the Daily Examen, for the Examination of Conscience is a term I associate with preparation for Sacramental Reconciliation. One should make a thorough examination of one's conscience, especially with regard to one's sins before Reconciliation, and reflecting on one's sins is a part of the Daily Examen, but it is not limited to that, while the Examination of Conscience before Reconciliation would not include all that the …

Ah, Hell!

When Jesus is asked  “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answers “Strive to enter through the narrow door" nicely dodging the question for those who love precision about such things. (Lk 13:23 & 24) John in his vision strives to see how many have been saved while granted a glimpse of heaven, but is likewise thwarted a census when the number is that "which no one could count." (Rev 7:9) Was it a small fraction of the seething multitude of the total human population over time? Was it everybody? No straight answers are offered.

Stuck in our desire to be in the know about who and how many will be saved, we're often presented with two viewpoints well illustrated by two early theologians. Origen erred on the side of Universalism, that in the long run EVERYBODY gets saved (apokatastasis), even the fallen angels, including Satan. So powerful is God's mercy and the saving power of the Cross that no creature can resist it. This opinion was condemned by the Ch…

Catechism philology

Terms or phrases from the Catechism of the Catholic Church the editors wanted to make sure you knew in Hebrew [Hb], Greek [Gk] or Latin [Lt]. Aeiparthenos - [Gk] the "Ever-virgin", title of Mary (CCC 499) Akathist - [Gk] hymn of praise in the Eastern Liturgies (CCC 2678) animi cruciatus - [Lt] (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart) (CCC 1431) auriga virtutum - [Lt] "the charioteer of the virtues"; i.e. Prudence (CCC 1806) bara - [Hb] the verb "create" - always has God for its subject (CCC 290) basileia - [Gk] can be translated by "kingship" but often translated Kingdom, as in "Kingdom [basileia] of God" (CCC 2816) Dominicus character - [Lt] "the seal of the Lord" (on us) (CCC 1274) Ecclesia domestica - [Lt] "the domestic church" i.e. the family (CCC 1656) epiousios - [Gk] (epi-ousios) "super-essential"; translated as "daily" in the Lord's Prayer. The Catechism points out i…

Prayer in Benson's Lord of the World

Fascinated by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's description of Fr Percy's prayer in The Lord of the World. [H]e hid his face in his hands, drew a couple of breaths, and set to work.  He began, as his custom was in mental prayer, by a deliberate act of self-exclusion from the world of sense. Under the image of sinking beneath a surface he forced himself downwards and inwards, till the peal of the organ, the shuffle of footsteps, the rigidity of the chair-back beneath his wrists--all seemed apart and external, and he was left a single person with a beating heart, an intellect that suggested image after image, and emotions that were too languid to stir themselves. Then he made his second descent, renounced all that he possessed and was, and became conscious that even the body was left behind, and that his mind and heart, awed by the Presence in which they found themselves, clung close and obedient to the will which was their lord and protector. He drew another long breath, or two, …

Become all Flame

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can. I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
 --Sayings of the Desert Fathers (tr. Benedicta Ward)