The Last Jedi and 6th Century Irish Monks by Deacon Marty McIndoe

I have to confess, I love the Star Wars movies. They appeal to my love of science fiction as well as my love of seeing good triumph over evil. The last two movies have been quite interesting. In the 2015 The Force Awakens we are reunited with some of the original cast members. It ends with the search for the Jedi, Luke Skywalker. They search throughout the galaxy and he is finally found, all alone, in a mysterious land with ancient stone structures. The new 2017 movie, The Last Jedi takes us back to this mysterious land. It is beautiful and remote and ancient looking. The movie cameras do a great job of capturing the strange beauty that this land holds. Luke Skywalker went there to “get away” and now a new Jedi comes to be trained by him in the ways of the Force and the Jedi. The interesting thing is that this new mysterious beautiful land is not a construct for the movie. Rather, it is a place that has been a “get away” since the 6th century. It is an island off the coast of Ireland called Skellig Michael.
Skellig Michael appears to have been uninhabited until the 500’s when Irish monks came and built their monastery there. It is a beautiful island surrounded by turbulent seas and high winds. That is what kept the people from inhabiting it and what caused the monks to move there. Escaping from the world or getting away is nothing new. From about the 2nd century before Christ, the Jews had a monastic community called the Essenes. They escaped from the main communities by going in to uninhabited parts of the Jewish desert. Early Christians knew of the Essenes and also knew of St. John the Baptist who “got away” and of Jesus who went in to the desert for 40 days and nights to pray. Inspired by this, early Christians would often go out in to the desert and live in caves and pray. Around the 3rd century they started forming small monastic communities in remote areas so they were away from the normal society and its distractions. Eventually monastic rules of life developed and larger communities thrived. Most of this originally was in North Africa, the mid east and the holy lands. This spread somewhat in to western Mediterranean cities in Italy and France. By the 500’ s it spread to England and Ireland. Skellig Michael is one of the early Irish monastic communities.
The monastic community on Skellig Michael was a small community but flourished until the 13th century when climate changes and changes in Church culture forced it to be abandoned. The structures now there consist of stone bee-hive buildings as well as a larger gathering hall and a Church. After the monks left Skellig Michael the only inhabitants were the sea birds. The buildings that we see today are those built 1500 years ago. The Irish office of Public Works repaired some of the buildings in the 1800’s. At that time they built two lighthouses on the island. Except for lighthouse personnel, the island has remained uninhabited. In 1996 it was made a World Heritage Site. When the Star Wars producers decided to use the location for filming the Irish government gave them permission. Because of this, there are now tours out to the island. I didn’t know about it the last time I was in Ireland, but the next time I go, I plan on visiting it. I am a little worried about the 600 stone steps you need to take to get to the monastery.
So how does this affect us? This Hollywood movie that takes place in the future has caused us to look back at our past. Just as the future Luke Skywalker went to the island to get away and reflect, the early Christian monks went to the island to get away and reflect. This need to remove ourselves from the distractions of everyday society is no less valid today than it was for the Essenes over 2000 years ago or for the early Christians or for us today. Everyday life and its distractions make it difficult to reflect on what God is trying to tell us. We all need to get away once in a while to try to center in on God. It isn’t necessary to go to Skellig Michael. We certainly can find places much closer. We don’t have to spend our lifetime away, but we should spend a little time away as often as we can. Certainly religious retreats can help us with that, but sometimes things much easier are good too. If we plan well, we can find some down time to sit by ourselves and reflect. Sometimes it is as easy as turning the radio off when we drive or going out for a quiet walk.
Star Wars talks about the Force. They continually use the phrase, The Force Be With You. We Catholic ‘s should be used to the phrase, The Lord Be With You. It is easy to see that the Star Wars force is none other than a reflection on our own God. Just as in Star Wars when the Jedi are called to put the force to the work of good, we too are called to put our faith to the work of good. Just as in Star Wars the Jedi need to reflect on and grow in their use of the force, we too need to reflect on and grown in our use of faith and God’s presence. Luke Skywalker knew what the early Irish monks of Skellig Michael knew; that to get closer to the Force/God, we need time away. Do yourself a favor; find some time to get away.

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