Updated: Oct 31, 2019
“The Last Jedi” was widely criticized by fans of the Star Wars world as an unneeded departure from the legends and lore that we all had become used to. Rian Johnson’s film took us farther away from what we thought that “galaxy far away” should have been, and it even encouraged us to “let the past die; kill it if you have to.” Many people saw in this the complete corruption of the franchise. Bear in mind” it was the villain who gave that advice!
Luke Skywalker was also a player in this total departure from what we thought we knew of the Star Wars world, the Jedi, and the Force. He came across much of the time as a grizzled, disenchanted wizard who wanted nothing to do with his special role - from the moment that he tossed his long-lost lightsaber over his shoulder. He constantly told Rey that it was time for the Jedi to end - that the Jedi were, in fact, victims of their own hubris, and that the best thing for the galaxy and for the Force was for the Jedi to simply fade away. Luke even set out to destroy the “sacred Jedi texts.” His hesitation is met by Master Yoda’s return - and his assistance in calling down lighting to set the tree ablaze. It was time for the Jedi to end.
I was reminded of that scene, actually, yesterday as I watched in shock and sadness while the great spire of Notre Dame collapsed in that terrible fire that destroyed the ancient cathedral in Paris. What a tragedy for France, for Catholicism, for the world. Notre Dame is more than just a pretty building or a tourist attraction; it is a symbol of faith - a church where Jesus has been present for nine centuries. I couldn’t help but wonder what God was teaching us through this sad episode. Are we to “let the past die”? Is there a lesson to be learned amid the flames on the Ile de la Cite?
I am sure that there is. The lesson, however, is not that these structures are unimportant and do not matter - that they are “just buildings” and that faith is more than what we ascribe to it in our architecture. Notre Dame was built over a period of more than 180 years - by people who would never see its completion. It is, literally, an edifice of faith. As a church, it is the dwelling place of the Eucharist, where faithful have come for centuries to pray, to be comforted, to rejoice, to celebrate, and above all to encounter the Lord in the beauty of that building and in those liturgies.
That being said, there is something to this idea of letting go of the structural, even dogmatic elements of our faith - if they have become elements of worship in and of themselves. We can make idols out of anything - even prayer; and if that takes us away from a focus on our real, lived, personal relationship with Jesus, then we do need to do something about that. A couple months ago, some Egyptian Catholics were barred from their churches; so they prayed in the streets. Last evening, it was moving to see so many in the streets around Notre Dame praying and singing as the church itself burned. This is what our faith is built upon; it is what, in the end our churches are built upon. That is what built Notre Dame in the first place, and it is what will rebuild it. Recall that in "The Last Jedi" Rey actually looks to have saved the texts from that tree before Luke even thought to burn it - ah, thank God for our youth!
That relationship with Jesus is the cornerstone for any Christian’s life. It is the solid ground on which we build the house of our faith. It is also what brings us to our churches as well - to build one another up into that house of faith that Jesus came to establish. When we see in one another the "living stones" that constitute the Church that Jesus has built, then the beauty of our buildings and the Beauty of the Church will shine at its fullest glow.
For Luke and the Jedi, it will be interesting to see how the realization that the Force is truly in all of us, and that letting go of the past does not mean letting go of the Force. Just so, for us Christians, letting go of the brick and mortar elements of our faith does not mean letting go of Jesus or our lived relationship with Him. In fact, in letting go, we can find ourselves even more connected to Him - and one another. And, from that realization, we can build a powerful and beautiful Church, indeed.