Warring with Spirits 

Warning: this article contains spoilers about season one of “The Rings of Power” television series. If you have been looking forward to watching it, I suggest skipping to the second paragraph. “The Rings of Power” is a television series on Amazon Prime that serves as a prequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings stories. The most important character in the show is an elven warrior named Galadriel, who is fixated on hunting down the evil sorcerer Sauron for killing her brother (bear with me, please). Early in the season she meets a character named Halbrand, a man with a mysterious past who seems to be a great ally in the fight against Sauron. In the season finale, however, Galadriel discovers to her horror that Halbrand is Sauron. He had gained her trust by appearing as a friend. He made himself look beautiful and good, when he was actually ugly and evil, exploiting her weaknesses in order to gain power for himself. There is a scene in which Halbrand, revealed as Sauron, tries to confuse Galadriel and make her doubt what she had known to be true. He tries to seduce her into becoming his queen, claiming that together they could save the world and bring about peace and healing. After a great interior struggle, she refuses, knowing that Sauron is the destroyer, and that it is from him that the world needs to be saved. He then turns on her, manifesting his cruelty by trying to convince her that her mistake has made his rise to power unstoppable and that she is responsible for it. She rejects his attempt to discourage her and declares her intention to resist and fight him until the end. It’s an effective scene that insightfully depicts how spiritual warfare works. 

In his 4th century commentary on the martyrdom of St. Vincent, St. Augustine writes: “Against Christ’s army the world arrays a two-fold battleline. It offers temptation to lead us astray; it strikes terror into us to break our spirit. Hence, if our personal pleasures do not hold us captive, and if we are not frightened by brutality, then the world is overcome. At both of these approaches Christ rushes to our aid, and the Christian is not conquered. If you were to consider in Vincent’s martyrdom only human endurance, then his act is unbelievable from the outset. But first recognize the power to be from God, and he ceases to be a source of wonder.” 

Elves, wizards, trolls, and magic rings are the stuff of fantasy entertainment, but spiritual warfare is a real thing (see Eph 6:12). The conflict between good and evil depicted in great stories like The Lord of the Rings gives us insight into the real moral and spiritual struggles of life in the world. Evil always tries to disguise itself at first as good (see 2 Cor 11:14). The devil plays off our weaknesses, suggesting that we pursue the fulfillment of our desires, even noble ones, in a way that will lead to ruination. When we resist, he tries to terrify and discourage us by making himself seem all-powerful and futile to resist. If we fail, he tries to shame us, trying to make us think our sin is greater than Our Lord’s ability to forgive us. Our life in the Church helps us to learn to distinguish good from evil. It helps us to know to ask Christ for the wisdom and strength to resist the seductive power of evil and the courage to faithfully persevere in the face of threats and open persecution. The Church reminds us of Christ’s mercy and His desire to receive us back when we fall, to heal us with His grace, so that we might resist and fight the enemy until the end. 

posted 2/5/23

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