Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Commemoration of St Thomas Becket

"Thomas was born at London in England, and succeeded Theobald in the Archbishopric of Canterbury. He had previously filled with great distinction the office of Lord Chancellor, and shewed an indomitable firmness in his duty as Primate. When Henry II, King of England, in an assembly of the Bishops and great men of his realm, endeavoured to pass laws detrimental to the advantage and dignity of the Church, he opposed himself so steadily to the king's wishes, that, neither promises, nor threats availing to shake him, he was about to be cast into prison, had he not made good his escape in time. The whole of his kinsfolk without regard to age or sex, his friends, and his advisers, were then banished the kingdom, and those who were able, were bound by an oath to make their way to the presence of Thomas, in the hope that though careless of his own sufferings, he might yield at the sight of their misery. But neither flesh nor blood, nor the pleadings of natural affection could make him swerve from the line of his pastoral duty.

He betook himself to Pope Alexander III, by whom he was graciously received, and who committed him to the care of the Cistercians at Pontigny. As soon as this came to the knowledge of King Henry, he sent threatening letters to the monks, in order to drive Thomas from this shelter. The saint was unwilling that the Cistercian Order should suffer on his account, and therefore voluntarily withdrew from Pontigny, and accepted the invitation of Louis VII, King of France, to go to his court. He remained here, until his banishment was recalled at the intercession of the Pope and of the King of France, and he returned to England amid great public joy. He was quietly continuing the work of a faithful shepherd of souls, when certain calumniators denounced him to the king as a plotter against the crown and the public peace. Henry, deceived by these libels, cried out that it was hard that one priest should never let him have quiet in his kingdom.

Some wicked servants of the king, hearing his words, and thinking to do him pleasure, betook themselves to Canterbury to rid him of the Archbishop. They entered the cathedral in the evening as Thomas was proceeding to assist at Evensong. The clergy in attendance on him, conscious of the attempt about to be made, wished to bolt the doors. But the saint caused them to be again opened , saying, The Church of God is not be made a castle of, and for the cause of God's Church I am willing to die. He then said to his murderers, I charge you in the Name of the Almighty God to hurt none of my people. With these words he fell on his knees, and commended himself to God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to St. Denis, and to the other holy Patrons of the Church of Canterbury. He presently offered his sacred head for the stroke of death, and received it from the swords of those wicked men with the same constancy with which he had withstood the commands of the unrighteous king. The murderers pulled out his brains and strewed them all about the floor of the church. He testified on the 29th day of December, in the year of our Lord 1170, and, being afterwards honoured with many miracles, was canonised by Pope Alexander III."

-- From the second nocturn for the commemoration of St Thomas of Canterbury (Becket)

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