If you’re even remotely familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, you know that Sauron is the bad guy. He’s basically evil personified. So what could we possibly learn about holiness from him? “Just do the opposite of what Sauron does, and you’ll be a saint?” Well, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s pretty well known that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, while not straightforward allegories, have a certain resonance with Catholic theology and cosmology. Eru Ilúvatar corresponds to God, and the Ainur/Valar correspond to angels. And Sauron is the Middle Earth version of Satan, right? Not quite.
In The Silmarillion, an angelic being known as Melkor (later called Morgoth), rebels against Ilúvatar and begins to spread evil throughout creation. Sauron is actually one of his servants. By the end of The Silmarillion, Morgoth has been defeated, and Sauron takes over as Middle Earth’s “big bad.”
Submission of Will
So, now that we know the backstory, we can move on to the main point. There’s a quote from The Silmarillion that has stuck with me, and it’s popped back into my head on several occasions.
“In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long years he served another and not himself.”
Because Sauron spent so long serving someone other than himself, he was “less evil” than Morgoth. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m not saying that devoting yourself to an immoral dictator is the path to heaven. And neither was Tolkien:
“But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void.”
So make no mistake. Sauron was evil. But if we remove the specific circumstances, we can find a statement of truth. If you are willing to submit your will to someone else, that’s a step in the right direction. That’s because, at the heart of virtually every moral choice is the question, “Should I do what God wants, or what I want?” And if you make a habit of only doing what you want to do, it will be much easier to sin than to follow God’s commandments.
Putting it into Practice
So instead, we can try to build up the habit of submitting our will to others (as long as those others aren’t telling us to sin). Here are some examples.
I might think it makes more sense to load bowls into the dishwasher from front to back. But my wife would rather load them back to front. So I load them back to front. Of course, I primarily do this to make my wife happy. But also, it’s a good way to practice following someone else’s will instead of my own. Little things like this may not be critical to salvation, but when you’re building a habit – building virtue – you start with baby steps.
Then there’s the matter of the Church’s doctrines. Part of being a Catholic means accepting all of the truths that the Church teaches. There are a lot of teachings that I don’t know a whole lot about. So I have to trust that the Church is correct, for two reasons. One is that, once I get a chance to fully understand the reasoning behind a certain teaching, I will hopefully be able to see that it is true. The other reason is that if I put my own will above the Church, I’m making myself into the ultimate authority. And in that case, I leave no room for Jesus Christ, who gave that authority to His Church.
I want to make something clear. When I talk about practicing and building virtues, I’m not saying that with enough hard work, you can earn salvation. (Because that would be heresy.) Rather, building virtue (which is only possible with God’s grace), allows us to better accept Jesus into our hearts, and to fully become members of His body.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you didn’t stop after the first quote. If you did, you’re obviously not reading this paragraph, because you’re too busy raising armies and forging evil rings.
Can you think of other opportunities to submit your will, and make yourself more open to Jesus? Let me know in the comments!
About Our Guest Blogger
Matthew Marks is a Catholic husband and father of four. He has two sons at home, and a son and daughter in heaven. When he’s not too busy acting as a jungle gym for his children, he likes to read Tolkien, watch Star Wars, and play board games. You can see more posts from him at his website, GeekyCatholicDad.com.