St Thomas Becket

Archbishop of Canterbury, martyr (entered heaven in 1170)

Dear Tom,

Congratulations!  To be honest, I am not surprised – any businessman in his right mind would snatch you up for a summer internship at the drop of a hat, hoping, of course, to woo you onto the team permanently.  Even so, you must be pleased to have landed your first choice so early in the year – now you can enjoy the rest of the academic year without the pressure of not knowing how you’ll be spending the summer… Well, that would be the easy way out.  But as your devoted uncle, I cannot allow you to take the easy way out that easily. It is my duty to remind you that back in October you made a verbal commitment to your bishop that you would seriously consider running the diocesan summer camps this year.  As I recall, and if your notes were accurate, the bishop was quite serious about giving you the position, and he has high hopes for the growing success of that important youth ministry. So now you have yourself a dilemma: give your summer to the Church and miss out on this impressive internship, or take the internship and hope the bishop can find someone else to take over the camp (or try to find some happy compromise).  It reminds me a bit of the situation faced by today’s saint.

He grew up in London, was educated in the Cathedral there, and received minor orders (deaconate) as a young man.  He was brilliant, energetic, and well-rounded. The prelates made valuable use of him as a diplomat, and he soon acquired a reputation for organization, effectiveness, and political problem-solving.  Such men are rare, and King Henry II of England knew it, and snatched him up, appointing him Chancellor of the Realm (kind of like Prime Minister) before the future saint was 40 years old. Thomas and the King not only had fine professional relations, but they enjoyed each other’s company even in the off hours and shared more than a few frolics.  They grew to be fast friends. When the Archbishopric of Canterbury opened up, the King wanted Thomas appointed to it. Thomas deferred, however, because he knew that relations between the Church and the King were strained (it was the height of the Middle Ages, and the battle between secular and ecclesiastical authority was intense throughout Europe), and he feared that he would only anger the King if he were forced to uphold honorably the most important ecclesiastical position in England.  But Henry wouldn’t listen to him, and Thomas was made Archbishop.

After a brief period of calm, the anticipated antagonisms ensued.  The King wanted to take measures that would put the Church, its influence, and its wealth wholly at the service of the state, and Thomas would have none of it.  They appealed to the Pope, Becket was exiled, the King of France was drawn into the fray, and all of Europe followed the developments with rapt attention. Finally, there seemed to be a rapprochement, but it turned out to be only superficial.  Thomas firmly defended the autonomy of the Church, and the King constantly menaced it. Finally, in a fit of rage, the King exclaimed that any loyal subject of England would not tolerate the presence of such a cleric. Four knights heard the words and rashly interpreted it as an order to have the archbishop murdered, which they brutally did in the afternoon of December 29th, while Becket was entering his Cathedral to celebrate vespers.  They felled him right below the sanctuary, split open his head and scattered his brains on the holy pavement.  The crime sent shock waves across the Island and the Continent, and the slain prelate was immediately hailed as a martyr.  Soon thereafter, King Henry II did public penance, and the dignity and autonomy of the Church had been vindicated.

Now, I am not implying that you are on the verge of a violent death, but I would say that as you approach your decision in the calm and sincere atmosphere of prayer, trying to see your choice from God’s perspective and trying to discern what would please him more and be more fruitful for his Kingdom, you may find it difficult to do what you determine God is asking you to do: saying no to the bishop would be hard, and saying no to Adler and Bickermann would also be hard.  You will need the courage to honor God by fulfilling his will, just as Becket needed the courage to overcome his personal devotion to the king and put his very life at risk in order to defend the integrity of the Church and fulfill his God-given duties. Count on my prayers.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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One Comment
  1. Dear Uncle Eddy,

    Thank you for your response. I read at Mass on St Thomas feast day and kept thinking of his courage as I went up to the lectern.
    I especially like this “trying to see your choice from God’s perspective and trying to discern what would please him more and be more fruitful for his Kingdom,” and will incoporate it more into my decision making. Thank you.

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