Thomas Becket and the Need for Holy, Heroic Bishops
He stands in our day as an example for all Bishops - indeed all who must endure a hostile State
'There are a great many Bishops in the Church, but would to God we were the zealous teachers and pastors that we promised to be at our consecration.' Thomas Becket is a special witness for our beloved Bishops. Today they face the growing hostility of a State which has no tolerance for their insistence on the fundamental human right to life from conception to natural death.Like Thomas, they must refuse to bend.
The Bishop Thomas Becket at the altar
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - On December 29 we continue the celebration of the Octave (Eight days) of Christmas. The Church instructs us concerning the implications of the Nativity of the Lord in the selection of these feasts. In the Incarnation, which encompasses the entire saving life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, humanity was re-created in Christ the new Adam. He became like us in order to capacitate us to become like Him. That happens as we respond to the continual call of the Holy Spirit and receive the graces needed for our continuing conversion.
In our first reading for today's Mass we find these words from the beloved disciple John: "Beloved: The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, "I know him," but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked." (1 John 2)
As members of the Risen Body of Christ, the Church, we are called to continue His redemptive mission; making Him present in every age until he returns to complete his work of redemption. We are called to "walk the talk", even when such a bold and brave witness of life places us at risk of being persecuted. The Saints reveal the heroic virtue which is to be manifested in the vocation to which we are all called in our Baptism. We are to become Saints, no matter what our state in life.
On this Octave day of Christmas we consider the life and martyrs' death of a Bishop named Thomas Becket. He faced a hostile government and refused to bend. He teaches us in our own day how vital it is to stay faithful to the Truth. For the Christian, the Truth is a Divine Person named Jesus Christ. We are called to bear His name and, in the words of the Apostle, "walk just as he walked."
However, Thomas Becket is a special witness for our beloved Bishops. Today they face the growing hostility of a State which has no tolerance for their insistence on the fundamental human right to life from conception to natural death.Like Thomas, they must refuse to bend.
Thomas Becket was born in London in 1118 to wealthy and respected parents. He was well educated and socially connected from his birth. At the age of 24 he obtained a coveted position with Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He quickly excelled in his work and climbed the ranks of ecclesiastical appointments. He was ordained a deacon in 1154 and appointed an Archdeacon of Canterbury.
At a time when Church and State were connected in a manner seldom seen any longer, he caught the attention of King Henry II who sought his advice and counsel regularly. He was appointed the Chancellor of England by the King and is noted to have grown quite comfortable with the trappings of office, living a rather lavish life.
When Archbishop Theobald died, Thomas Becket was nominated by the King for consideration as Archbishop. He was elected Theobald's successor in 1162. The grace of Episcopal office deeply affected Thomas, as it so often does. After all, Bishops, are successors of the Apostles.
Accounts reveal that Bishop Thomas radically changed his lifestyle, embracing the way of simplicity. He adopted ascetical practices and sought to grow closer to the Lord, increasing his prayer and devotion. He began to sleep on the floor, and simplified his once lavish diet. He gave away many of his possessions to the poor and began to prefer their company.
Thomas was drawn by the Holy Spirit and the grace of his office into a deeper conversion in Christ. He became an example to the faithful by "walking just as He walked" in the words of the beloved disciple John which we hear at Mass on his Feast. However, as is so often the case in the history of the relationship between the Church and the State, frictions began to emerge with the King. The Bishop's loyalties were tested.
Within two years, the frictions boiled over. Bishop Thomas was hated by the King who had formerly been his benefactor and champion. Thomas opposed the King's increasing infringements on the rights of the Church and the Clergy and the King grew angry and felt threatened.
As a result of his fidelity to placing the Lord first Thomas experienced a great spiritual renewal and earned the admiration of the faithful. However, this was accompanied by intense persecution from the King. He was forced into exile to France. Bishop Thomas returned six years later when it appeared that the King's wrath had subsided. It was short-lived.
The Bishop continued to place the Lord and His Church first in his exercise of office. He refused to take sides with the King in his repeated efforts to assert the primacy of his crown - and undermine the authority, teaching, discipline and Canon law of the Church. An account ...
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