Thursday, December 29, 2005

St. Thomas Beckett's Fidelity

Today is the fifth day of Christmas. We remember the martyrdom of St. Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. His story shows us that fidelity to God is the highest aspiration and honor, even if it means death in the hands of the monarchy. He served only one King, Jesus and he loved Him unto death. What is not told in the following account is that after his death, King Henry repented by putting on a sack cloth and walked barefoot while eighty monks flogged him in public.

As an Archdeacon of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket was also chancellor to England's King Henry II, twelve years younger then himself. Both men liked each other. Thomas went along with the King insofar as his conscience permitted. When Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury died King Henry, who in those days had some say in such affairs, recommended St. Thomas as his successor. He figured that by placing Thomas in such a position he could then have more control over Church affairs. A mistake he was soon to regret.

Thomas was born in the city of London in 1118. His father was a Norman knight, Gilbert, who had become a prosperous merchant in London; his mother was also Norman. To his mother he owed his early piety, his devotion to our Lady, and generosity to the poor. As a boy Thomas liked to play field sports. After school at Merton priory and Paris he became, at twenty-one, financial clerk to a relative in the city. Three years later he was employed by Archbishop Theobald.

At thirty-six years old Thomas had warned the King against recommending him for Archbishop of Canterbury, as conflicts over Church issues would certainly be unavoidable. With a Cardinal's insistence Thomas accepted the office. He was ordained a priest and then a bishop. He immediately led a more austere and spiritual lifestyle and devoted himself to the interests of the Church. To the Kings displeasure he gave up his office as chancellor.

Soon the new Archbishop found himself opposing policies of the King. Conflicts reached a crisis point when in 1164 the King demanded assent to the Constitutions of Clarendon, which brought back customs of the past that were contrary to the law of the Church and the practice of the papacy. Thomas gave in for a short time but then he opposed the King. Facing threats of death or imprisonment Thomas fled to France where Pope Alexander III was residing. Together they tried to settle the controversy and bring back peace to the Church in England.

Thomas returned to Canterbury in 1170 under a tentative peaceful accord reached with the King while he was in France. Thomas' opponent, the Archbishop of York, told the King that while Thomas lived he would never have peace. The King responded to him by exclaiming angrily, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

Four knights hearing this thought they would gain the King's favor by getting rid of Thomas. On December 29th the knights followed Thomas to the Cathedral and killed him. Thomas was canonized by the Pope two years later and King Henry II in 1174 did public penance at the Shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury. Because so many miracles occurred at this Shrine it became, for the rest of the Middle Ages, the wealthiest and most famous one in all of Europe.

St. Thomas is an example for us today of a person who kept priorities straight in his allegiance to both his country and his Church. When the two came in conflict, he correctly chose to obey the Church. His last words are reported to have been "I accept death for the Name of Jesus and for the Church."

From the government and sometimes at work there is pressure from those in authority and those around us to compromise our allegiance to the beliefs and morals the Church has given us. At times like this we, like St. Thomas, are called upon to oppose misguided authority for the sake of Christ and His Church. Jesus warned His followers of persecution.

May we, like St. Thomas, remain steadfast in our uncompromising fidelity to Christ and His Church.

(Monks of adoration)

Here's a little quiz: Can you name another martyr saint from England who defied the King's demands? Hint: The first name is also Thomas.


Blogger Danny Garland Jr. said...

"A Man for All Seasons" is one of my favorite movies!

9:21 PM  
Blogger Saint Peter's helpers said...

That's correct Danny! And "A Man for All Seasons" is one movie that should be in every Catholic family's library.

My favorite St. Thomas More quotes:

"What is an oath then, but words we say to God? When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands like water. And if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again."

And when his daughter Meg pleaded with him, “Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?” To which he replied, “Well, finally, Meg, it isn’t a matter of reason; finally, it’s a matter of love.”

May we offer ourselves to God like Thomas More and Thomas Beckett out of pure love.

11:56 PM  
Blogger antonia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:54 AM  
Blogger antonia said...

Great post! Our Parish priest told us that St. Thomas Beckett was actually a pretty immoral guy before he was ordained and made Archbishop the following day! (hence why the King wanted him in keep Rome out of the way). But unfortunatly for him, the King didn't consider the life-changing power of God's grace!

St. Thomas Beckett is also the patron saints of secular Clergy in England.....may he pray for them & for all seminarians and for an increase in vocations, especially in England.

4:54 AM

4:56 AM  
Blogger Saint Peter's helpers said...

Thanks Antonia. I didn't know he was like St. Augustine in that respect. The greatest sinner can be the greatest saint for nothing is impossible with God!

St. Thomas Beckett, pray for us and for an increase in vocations in England and throughout the whole world!

1:51 PM  

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