Monday, December 28, 2009

Woodward: Feast of St. Thomas Becket

From Robert Hugh Benson's invaluable little book on "the holy blissful martyr":

And so the miracles went on. The Christian world went wild with enthusiasm, as is proper when a saint goes to God by the road of blood. Faith was kindled, and God rewarded it according to His promise. Devotions sprang up; pilgrimages began; men returned from Canterbury bearing little leaden phials filled with "St. Thomas' water"--that is, water in which a minute drop of the holy blood had been mixed; and the shrine of Canterbury began to take its place with the great centres of the world's devotion--with Rome, Jerusalem, and Compostella. Still the fame increased. Even Gilbert of London, once his friend and lately his enemy, was healed of disease by a drop or two of "Thomas' water"; as Henry himself, a little later, when his sons rebelled against him, gained the upper hand, as he himself confesses, through the intercession of the Saint whom he had done to death. On the Continent altars were dedicated to his honour; and particularly worthy of notice is one little chapel in Notre Dame de Fourvieres at Lyons which the Saint himself, years before, had been asked to consecrate. He had consecrated the rest of the church, but, upon being asked to name a saint for this chapel, had refused, saying it must be kept for the honour of the next martyr that should die. That honour was his own, and the chapel was dedicated to himself.

We live, and have long lived, in a time when the encroachment of government power on the rights of religious expression has seemed like a remote -- almost a quaint -- feature of earlier, more brutal periods of history, and nothing that we should ever fear ourselves. I am not confident that we will be living in such a time much longer, or that our children will ever be able to live in the kind of confidence we have. If there is today a prayer appropriate to the feast of Thomas Becket, it is surely the prayer that today's churchmen will have the courage to stand fast, as St. Thomas did, in defense of Christ's kingdom against the assaults of a godless secular power.

I'll recommend once again (with the same reservations I had a couple of years ago) the famous movie version of the story. It's a bit preachy, and a bit melodramatic. But it portrays forcefully the moment in the life of any man of principle when he must say, "This far and no farther."