The Hobbit: Lent Edition

Feb 20, 2024

Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Matt 16: 24-26

Family around the Thanksgiving Feast dinner table with mom carving the turkey

To find your life, you are going to have to deny yourself and live for others more intentionally. This is what Jesus says in scripture and the Bible does not lie. So, what does this mean, this living for others thing?

The first thing to do is to follow Jesus and get ready for the greatest adventure ever – beginning with Lent! Lent is the most holy opportunity of the year. It is a short time of great grace where every Catholic in the world is called to take a look at her or himself and become aware of where she or he is falling short. And, then go to work with the Lord one vice at a time.

The most beautiful part of the season is that we are all doing the same thing! We are all struggling to get out of our bad habits and praying to follow Jesus and amend our ways.

During Lent, God is calling us on a very uncomfortable holy adventure for 7 weeks.

It is a time set apart to repent and say our sorry’s to God, and then amend our ways! When Easter arrives, we should be well on our way to trading vice for virtue, being more kind to people, detaching from overeating, overdrinking and overdoing, and living more for the comfort of others than our own comfort for the rest of the year.

And then we do it again every Lent until we are Saints.

Embracing discomfort and living for others is the only way to be truly happy.

So, taking Lent seriously as a big adventure is not only good for me, but it is good for you, too, and for the whole body of Christ so that we can see what we are attached to and recognize our sinfulness, taking all of it to Jesus Christ to reform. This is repentance. Prayer and Fasting is the answer. Because when you deny yourself food and drink in the form of a little sugar or alcohol when you want it – your sin and weaknesses will bubble up to the top and you will be quite aware of what needs to be said in the confessional.

I just recently re-read The Hobbit. I haven’t read this book in years, and I absolutely loved reading the book through the lens of Catholic Fasting. It is a great read, but an even better listen on audible where the narrator plays all the parts.

So, when I listen to The Hobbit which is subtitled There and Back Again, it gave me a feeling of adventure, that I could actually see where I have a part in the story as Bilbo Baggins – the hero on the journey. We are all him during Lent – called out of our little comfy lives into challenge and adventure.

The Hobbit is the ultimate adventure into discomfort as the hero is forced to embrace commitment, courage, and capability – in that order.

It truly is the story of a hero’s journey, and I think this is why everyone finds it to be such a wonderful story. It begins with Bilbo Baggins comfortably hanging out in his hobbit hole. As you know, he’s very comfortable in the hobbit hole and Tolken writes, with his witty words that it “is not nasty or uncomfortable, like the lair of a mouse, but rather a cozy place, filled with fine furniture, doilies, and a well stock kitchen.” Sound familiar?

As the story unfolds, Bilbo is visited by Gandalf the Wizard and he asks him to join the group – – a bunch of dwarves on a mission to recover a golden treasure that was stolen by a dragon named Smaug a long time ago. But Bilbo doesn’t really want to go. He is really comfortable in his hobbit hole. He loves to make smoke rings with his pipe and just watch them float in the air while reading his paper and putting his big furry feet up on the ottoman. Sound familiar?

But as we know, he reluctantly joins the group and sets out on the adventure. As I was listening to this story, through the eyes of fasting, I realized that a lot of times I just want to be comfortable. I just want to eat what I want, when I want, and how I want, and not worry about fasting for other people. Or even about my weight. I will get thoughts like “you only live once” or “nobody cares if I’m 30 pounds overweight”, but actually – I care. And God cares. Because fasting casts out demons like Smaug, the golden-treasure-stealing dragon.

He is the demon that we are fighting. We are the ones holding onto our golden treasures of comfort and avoiding a little hunger and sobriety for just a while (literally 7 weeks!) to mortify ourselves, so that we can be intentional disciples for Jesus Christ.

So back to Bilbo Baggins. What’s so interesting about revisiting the story after all these years is to see him coming to maturity in his faith throughout the adventure, and realizing that this mission is not easy, but is totally necessary. He starts to understand that discomfort in the name of Jesus and fighting for others actually feels really good once he starts to defeat every enemy one by one, week by week until finally reaching The Lonely Mountain of Smaug. He and the dwarves fight off hungry trolls, gruesome orcs, wicked goblins, ferocious wolves, giant hairy spiders, and eventually the red-eyed, fire-breathing dragon himself. All these challenges point to some serious evil at work within the world. But even with all this evil afoot, there is an even deeper Christian ideal that permeates the darkness. Gandalf suggests that it is kindness that defeats the darkness in the world. Kindness trumps worldly power in this story. The kindness of Bilbo and the love he has for his comrades shines through.

Throughout this whole adventure, though, his mind wanders and he finds himself aching to go back to the hobbit hole to be comfortable, because he’s hungry and he’s tired in body and soul. At one point he yells at the group, “Do I have to save everyone? “Is it always up to me to make the decision? “ He soon realizes that ‘yes’ it is up to him to help save everyone and ‘yes’ he must make a daily decision for Christ every day — that is our story, too.

WE are in each other’s hands.

WE are here to care for each other and love each other into heaven no matter how hard it is.

Lent equips us for this challenge.

In denying ourselves the satisfaction of our bodily appetites, we become more aware of, and closer to the spiritual reality of God, and also of ourselves, and what we can do. The people that are the happiest are the ones that have come through challenges and survived. The people that are the most unhappy are the ones who are not challenged and feast continuously as if there is no God needed there.

But life is all about God and his Son, Jesus, and Mary, the Mother of God. We need God. We need redemption. We need to learn how to sacrifice. Jesus has taught us that sacrifice is essential to worship, which is the pinnacle of our Catholic religion — it’s why we do what we do because Jesus hung on the cross and defeated death. Faith and determination are needed to move forward from this.

Starting small is the key. Bilbo Baggins didn’t go to The Lonely Mountain the first day. He had a lot of challenges to conquer before then. One by one, he had victories until he wound up at the mountain. He began with commitment, kept going with courage, and ended up capable.

He didn’t start out capable, but he ended up there –– that’s where we can be at the end of Lent!

Make Lent an adventure this year. Figure out how to fast. Learn to give up sugar, flour, alcohol, and processed food for forty days. How will you do it? Well, I have lots of answers for you on that. I have an entire Delay and Pray plan — I’m your Bilbo Baggins in a sense. I’ve been through the adventure, there and back again, and remain forever changed.

I’ve been forced out of the hobbit hole and I’ve slayed Smaug the Dragon. And you can do it too. But that’s not the end of the story. There’s always another adventure waiting for you when you get close to Jesus.

Every Lent for me is better than the last.

It is simply transformational in body and soul.

And the thing is, you don’t just go back to your normal life. The actual point is not to just go back to your hobbit hole and resume all those bad habits again after Easter and stop working on all those vices that you discovered and are turning into virtue. No — fasting can become a lifestyle of health for your body and soul while serving God and the souls of others.

When Bilbo Baggins goes back to the shire, he realizes things are very different. I won’t give away the ending. But I chuckled a bit. “Oh, right” I thought to myself. It’s never over — there really is no retirement from holy adventure my friends.

And that is what’s going to happen to us after Easter, too. After a transformative Lent, we will be spending the Easter Octave closer to Jesus and our families then ever before. And, we will begin to know ourselves and our true capability before Christ.

God needs us and our agency to save one another and ourselves. That is Catholic doctrine. There is no time to waste — recall Bilbo grumbling under his breath at the beginning of the adventure he was chosen for: “Why do I have to save these people?? Where is Gandalf?? Why can’t he help them??” Funny analogy but how often do we say that to God because we are so busy.

This is Lent.

You are designed for Lent.

You are designed for Fasting.

You are designed for feasting too! But the fast comes before the feast.


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