December 28, 2017

Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

The Martyrdom of Thomas Becket

Optional Memorial - December 29th 

There was a time in England when being a friend of the king could easily lead to martyrdom. Such was the case of Saint Thomas Becket, whose 12th-century conflict with Henry II would result in his murder at the hand of the king’s men in the Cathedral at Canterbury. In so doing Becket went from being "a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds" to become an heroic "shepherd of souls."

Born in 1118, Thomas was appointed Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154, and became Lord Chancellor of England the following year. When the Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1162, King Henry II saw an opportunity to solidify the crown’s control of the Church, and made his good friend Thomas the next archbishop.

But Thomas, who had accepted the position reluctantly, turned out to be more loyal to his Church than to his king. After thwarting the king once too often, Henry reportedly said, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" Taking this as an order from their sovereign, four knights left for Canterbury, where they murdered Thomas as he prayed in the cathedral the night of December 29, 1170.

Thomas Becket was canonized as a martyr in 1173, and King Henry himself did penance at Becket’s tomb. Numerous miracles were attributed to the new martyr and his tomb became a destination for incessant pilgrimages. So much so that Geoffrey Chaucer, father of English literature, in 1387 began to write the "Tales of Canterbury", inspired by the path of faith that was made towards the place where the archbishop died. It remained a major pilgrimage site until another English king, Henry VIII, ordered it destroyed in 1538, during the English Reformation.

O God, who gave the Martyr Saint Thomas Becket the courage to give up his life for the sake of justice, grant, through his intercession, that, renouncing our life for the sake of Christ in this world, we may find it in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. St. Thomas Becket, help us be ever faithful.

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