Friday, December 29, 2017

December 29 -- Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Martyr.

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Saint Thomas Becket is one of those tragic martyrs killed for the faith by political leaders who professed Christianity but acted like the most blood-thirsty, power-hungry heathens. Here is an brief account of his later life and untimely death at the hands of the servants of King Henry II of England:
"A great change took place in the saint's way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practiced secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected. On 10 Aug. he went barefoot to receive the envoy who brought him the pallium from Rome. Contrary to the king's wish he resigned the chancellorship.... 
St. Thomas seems all along to have suspected King Henry of a design to strike at the independence of what the king regarded as a too powerful Church....In deference to what he believed to be the pope's wish, the archbishop consented to make some concessions by giving a personal and private undertaking to the king to obey his customs "loyally and in good faith". But when Henry shortly afterwards at Clarendon sought to draw the saint on to a formal and public acceptance of the "Constitutions of Clarendon"...St. Thomas, though at first yielding somewhat to the solicitations of the other bishops, in the end took up an attitude of uncompromising resistance. 
Then followed a period of unworthy and vindictive persecution....His fellow bishops summoned by Henry to a council at Northampton, implored him to throw himself unreservedly upon the king's mercy, but St. Thomas, instead of yielding, solemnly warned them and threatened them. Then, after celebrating Mass, he took his archiepiscopal cross into his own hand and presented himself thus in the royal council chamber. The king demanded that sentence should be passed upon him, but in the confusion and discussion which ensued the saint with uplifted cross made his way through the mob of angry courtiers. He fled away secretly that night (13 October, 1164), sailed in disguise from Sandwich, and after being cordially welcomed by Louis VII of France, he threw himself at the feet of Pope Alexander III, then at Sens.... 
On 1 December, 1170, St. Thomas again landed in England, and was received with every demonstration of popular enthusiasm. But trouble almost immediately ensued....How far Henry was directly responsible for the tragedy which soon after occurred on 20 December is not quite clear.
Oral tradition has it that the king, in a rage, uttered: "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"
Four knights came to Thomas at Vesper time with a band of armed men. To their angry question, "Where is the traitor?" the saint boldly replied, "Here I am, no traitor, but archbishop and priest of God."
They tried to drag him from the church, but were unable, and in the end they slew him where he stood, scattering his brains on the pavement. 
Excerpted from this excellent account in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 

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