Ioreth | Health of the Sick

Silvery Cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea). Low plant, flowers 1 cm across, roadside in an upland barrier beach forest.

Meditation of the Day

In Middle-earth, as we have already seen many times, wisdom is not the prerogative of the high and mighty, or of those who are accounted wise by others. The wisest of all—such as Gandalf—are precisely the ones who know that wisdom, and courage, can reside in the unlikeliest of places, even under the guise of foolishness. Hence the wizard’s centuries-old interest in the humble lives of hobbits. On hearing Boromir express skepticism about the folk tales concerning Fangorn Forest, Celeborn sagely remarked: “Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know” (Bk2 Ch8).

This lowly, earthy, easily dismissed wisdom is embodied in the person of Ioreth, “an old wife, . . . the eldest of those who served” in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith. Although the last king of Gondor disappeared almost a thousand years earlier, she calls to mind the tradition that a rightful king can be known by the gift of healing. It so happens that the only remaining claimant to the throne is encamped outside the city, and prompted by her saying, Gandalf will shortly call upon him to exercise his gift upon Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry, who are slipping into darkness from their encounters with the Nazgûl. It is also the old wives, not the pedantic herb-master, who correctly remember the virtues of athelas, the herb that in Elessar’s hands will cure the effects of the Black Breath.

Jesus, anointed with the Holy Spirit, is the great Healer of both souls and bodies. He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). He brings relief from illness with a single word, a simple touch. Physical and emotional healings are powerful signs that the Kingdom of God has indeed drawn near, in the Person of Christ. His Blessed Mother is the one who continually reminds us where healing may be found, and who mercifully intercedes for us with her Son. It is in this sense that she is called upon as the “health of the sick.” Innumerable miraculous cures and healings have been attributed to her intercession, especially at the great shrines of Christendom. When those who follow merely human wisdom, or the medical knowledge gained from empirical evidence, see no hope for a cure, we can always entrust ourselves to the deeper wisdom of our Ioreth (“old woman”), the Mother of God.

Prayer

O Mother of Mercy,
be the succour and support of all the poor afflicted,
the consolation of those who mourn, the remedy of the sick,
I beseech you, O Mary.
You who are the beloved daughter of God the Father,
the Immaculate Mother of God the Son, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
you, whom the archangel hailed as full of grace,
be our advocate, ask for mercy for sinners.

O Mary, be the star that guides me, my light in the darkness,
my courage in adversity and my refuge in pain.

O Mary, full of compassion, O my Mother, never forsake me.
Through your intercession, may I soon share in your happiness in the ecstasy of the Angels and Saints.

O Virgin! purer than Heaven, protect me, protect my beloved family,
protect all your children, fill us with your favours,
adorn us with your virtues.
You are our advocate, ask for mercy for your poor sinners.

Ven. Marthe Robin

Musical Selection

Action Points

  • Little children, and adults who have learned childlike ways, never hesitate to ask good things from their mother. They don’t overcomplicate things by prejudging whether their request is worthy of being granted. They simply ask, in any and all circumstances. And it gladdens their mother’s heart to see them ask with confidence. Let’s approach our Mother with the same childlike simplicity, for those in our lives who are afflicted in body and mind, or for ourselves.

To Go Deeper

The House of Elrond | Seat of Wisdom, Forge of Heroes

Our Lady of Walsingham

Meditation of the Day

Within the hidden Valley of Rivendell—situated at the midpoint between heaven and earth—lies the fair House of Elrond, described in The Hobbit and LOTR as “the Last Homely House east of the Sea.” It is so designated because of its proximity to the “edge of the Wild”: a symbolic threshold between civilized and untamed lands, between known and unknown. So both on the vertical and the horizontal axes, this is a place of decision, where heroes must either embrace their high calling or turn back, settling for a life of mediocrity. From what we have learned of Frodo’s character so far, we have every reason to expect him to make the heroic, self-sacrificial choice; but first he will need to receive healing in the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of his being. This is granted to him directly by Elrond Half-elven, Lord of Rivendell, but also by the House itself: “Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness” (Bk2 Ch1). Both a masculine and a feminine principle come into play.

Elrond symbolises throughout the ancient wisdom, and his House represents Lore–the preservation in reverent memory of all tradition concerning the good, wise, and beautiful. It is not a scene of action but of reflection. Thus it is a place visited on the way to all deeds, or ‘adventures’. It may prove to be on the direct road (as in The Hobbit); but it may be necessary to go from there in a totally unexpected course. So necessarily in The Lord of the Rings, having escaped to Elrond from the imminent pursuit of present evil, the hero departs in a wholly new direction: to go and face it at its source.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 131 to Milton Waldman (1951)

What a lofty vocation: to preserve “in reverent memory (. . .) all tradition concerning the good, wise, and beautiful”! With the eyes of faith, we can easily recognize in this a description of the mission of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and of her prototype and supreme model, the Blessed Virgin.

Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him.” In this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ. But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother.

Pope St. John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae

In the heart of Elrond’s House, the Hall of Fire epitomizes the faithful preservation and living transmission of the wisdom of past ages, through poetry, song, storytelling, and silent contemplation. “Except on high days,” Gandalf explains, in a way that hints at the observance of a quasi-liturgical calendar, “it usually stands empty and quiet, and people come here who wish for peace, and thought. There is always a fire here, all the year round, but there is little other light.” It is the closest thing to a chapel in Middle-earth. The fire is lit continually because it has a symbolic, ceremonial purpose, like the lamps in the Temple of Solomon or those in our churches. It represents the Secret Fire, the Flame Imperishable that burns at the heart of Eä—or, in our own world, the Holy Spirit, Who came upon the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation and overshadowed her, making her His Spouse.

Just as the House of Elrond cooperated with its master to heal the Ringbearer and impart to him the supernatural wisdom needed for his redemptive mission, Our Lady works efficaciously with her divine Spouse to heal all the wounds inflicted on us by sin, and to form each of us into “little Christs,” inasmuch as we invite her to do so.

Prayer

Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and Seat of Wisdom,
open our hearts to receive your divine Son and make them like your heart, full of your own wise and generous love:
a love, that brings true peace to our lives and to those of many others;
a love, that creates an atmosphere of joy and security to all those with whom we live day after day;
a love, that strengthens our will when sacrifice is demanded and that urges it on to virtue, while keeping us always kind and gentle;
a love, that gives us strength to deny ourselves and to carry the spiritual burdens of others;
a love, that does not flee from sacrifice, but that can carry the daily cross with persevering trust;
a love, that is willing to serve without looking for praise or reward, and that is thus able to comfort those in trouble;
a love, that enables us to be silent about ourselves and to heal many spiritual wounds through our reparation and penance.

Mother of Divine Wisdom, hear our prayer.

Mother Julia Verhaeghe

Musical Selection

Action Points

  • Sometimes children will pridefully hide their wounds and scrapes from their mother, and stubbornly insist on taking care of things themselves. How much quicker their wounds would heal if they let go of self-reliance and trusted their mother’s greater experience and skill! Today, identify some wounds in your life that you have yet to turn over fully to your Mother’s care . . . and do so.
  • Within the overall mission of the Church of Christ on earth, reflect on how you are personally chosen, called, and sent to advance the cause of “all that is good, wise, and beautiful” in this world.
  • Imaginatively place yourself on Mary’s lap, and ask her to teach you something you don’t know or understand about her Son, “the firstborn among many brethren,” who rested there first.

To Go Deeper

Model of Consecration: The Fellowship

This post and the preceding one are dedicated to Sarah de Nordwall.

Meditation of the Day

Exactly two months elapse between the Council of Elrond on October 25, where the fateful decision is taken to “send the Ring to the Fire,” and the departure of the Fellowship, on December 25 (yes, on our Christmas Day! no coincidence there, of course). The entire Quest of the Ring after this will only take an additional three months. Given the absolute urgency of the mission to destroy the One Ring, and the imminent threat of open war with the Dark Lord, ordinary wisdom would seem to advise more immediate action. Why wait so long? Certainly this is not what audiences of the typical action-adventure movie these days would expect; action heroes make elaborate plans in a matter of minutes or hours at most. But here, as with Aragorn’s recourse to an old song to prepare for the onslaught of the Ringwraiths, we touch on a central theme of the novel: real power to overcome evil does not reside in military might, or clever planning, but in the ancient wisdom embodied in song, poetry, legends, folk sayings, prophecies, dreams, and even riddles (like the Riddle of the Ring, received in a dream by Faramir and Boromir). Ultimately, this wisdom connects those who seek it and receive it humbly to the very wisdom of the Creator. In the language of Christian spirituality, we might summarize this message as the priority of contemplation over action—of which Our Lady is the prototype and supreme model (Luke 2:19).

What do we see the members of the Fellowship doing, for these two months? Arming themselves to the teeth? Practising martial arts? Learning woodcraft and the art of camouflage from Strider?

Such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song. (Bk2 Ch3)

Thus the hobbits are allowing the Valley of Rivendell—which, as we have seen, so powerfully symbolizes the Blessed Virgin—to restore their spiritual equilibrium, to lead them into an experience of the “sacrament of the present moment” (cf. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Bk1 Ch1 Sec2). They are able simply to enjoy the goodness of everyday things, the beauty of art and the nourishment of meaningful conversation.

Even after the choice of the Nine Walkers, during the final week before their departure, we observe the members of the Fellowship prioritizing learning, reflection, storytelling, and friendship over any more immediately practical concerns:

  • “Aragorn and Gandalf walked together or sat speaking of their road and the perils they would meet; and they pondered the storied and figured maps and books of lore that were in the house of Elrond.”
  • “In those last days the hobbits sat together in the evening in the Hall of Fire, and there among many tales they heard told in full the lay of Beren and Lúthien and the winning of the Great Jewel.”
  • “Merry and Pippin were out and about.”
  • “Frodo (. . .) spent as much time as he could with Bilbo. (. . .) Frodo and Sam were to be found with Bilbo in his own small room. Then Bilbo would read passages from his book (. . .), or scraps of his verses, or would take notes of Frodo’s adventures.”

The members of the Fellowship are not all perfect, far from it. The younger hobbits are still immature and foolish; Gimli and Legolas have inherited their respective cultures’ racial bias against each other; Boromir displays an excessive and narrow-minded concern for the welfare of his homeland; and so on. But upon all of them the Valley of Rivendell bestows some tangible and lasting benefit.

Above all, the grace these Nine receive from their two-month retreat in Rivendell is the gift of one another, the formation of the Fellowship itself. It is precisely in and through the bonds of love that are established among them that each of them will have the opportunity, during their adventures, to grow in virtue and overcome their defects of character.

If we, like the Fellowship, allow Our Lady to act as freely in us as she desires to do, we too will find ourselves drawn into closer communion with (perhaps unlikely!) fellow travelers, spiritual companions who will be the means for us to make real progress along the way of sanctification. Our Lady was instrumental in the birth of the first Christian community, at Pentecost, as she prayed for her Son’s disciples to receive the same Spirit who had overshadowed her. A comparison between the promise of the Holy Spirit to Mary, at the Annunciation (Luke 1:35), and her Son’s promise of the Holy Spirit, to be fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 1:8), shows that they contain identical Greek terms. The Holy Spirit and “power” (dynamis) will “come upon” (eperchomai) both Mary—the ideal disciple—and the community of disciples gathered by the Risen Lord. Whatever was realized in and for her personally, she desires to see realized in us, who are the living members of her Son’s Body.

The parallel is striking, as is the implication. It suggests that Mary experienced a personal Pentecost before the body of Christ’s disciples experienced the ecclesial Pentecost that formed the Church. In both cases, by physical conception and missionary witness, Christ is thus brought into the world. The first is an anticipation and type of the second.

Scott Hahn et al., eds.. Catholic Bible Dictionary (p. 588), The Crown Publishing Group, Kindle Edition.

Prayer

Note: The following prayer was composed for the Tolkien Marian Consecration 2020 Facebook Group, which you may wish to consider joining.

DAILY PRAYER FOR OUR FELLOWSHIP

O Lady clad in white,
Mother of our true King,
wise and wonderful beyond compare,
fair and clear as the dawn of Arda,
rich in graces to lavish on thirsty souls,
come be the guide of those who wander but are not lost.
Allow us to find that which we desire most on this journey:
To enter the refuge of your most pure Heart,
To be shielded there from all the assaults of the Shadow,
To be cherished as your own true sons and daughters,
To be clothed in your virtues,
To become more radiant beacons in the darkness of this world,
So that more children of Ilúvatar may find their way home.
All for the glory of the Eternal Father,
Through the Blood shed by the Son,
In the power and brilliance of the Holy Spirit, the Secret Fire.
Amen.

Musical Selection

Action Points

  • The more urgent a problem appears to be, the more tempting it can be to rush in with an immediate practical solution, without any space for either deeper reflection or an invitation to the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Genuine discernment takes time; it requires stilling our mind and being more in tune with what is happening right now, with what God might be saying or doing. Let’s ask Our Lady to teach us, today, how to let more of our doing flow out of our being-in-relationship with the living God.
  • Before facing a challenging task today, pause to offer a single decade of the holy Rosary, meditating on one of the usual mysteries or another event of the life of Jesus or Mary, asking for sufficient light to face the challenge in a way that pleases God.

To Go Deeper