The martyrdom of Saint Thomas (Becket) of Canterbury, by Master Francke (ca. 1424)
A recent statement, issued by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, DD, OP (Member, Dominican Priestly Fraternity) and the clergy of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, bore for its title the words of England's famous King Henry II: "Will no one relieve me of this meddlesome priest?"
So who is this 'meddlesome priest?'
King Henry was referring to his (formerly) great friend, Thomas Becket, who served as his high and mighty Chancellor. Hoping to bend the Church in England to conform to his royal will, King Henry, on the earliest opportunity, nominated Chancellor Becket to concurrently serve as the Archbishop of Canterbury, an inarguably influential position. As Primate of all England, the Archbishop of Canterbury was the spiritual authority in the kingdom.
Becket was an archdeacon and, at first, showed himself extremely loyal to the king. He helped Henry maneuver against the Church, which strongly contested his overreaching authority. The king had, in several instances, attempted to curtail the Church's rights. He wanted it to say 'amen' to everything he says.
Becket had wanted to refuse the nomination as archbishop, but the king insisted, hoping to achieve the complete subservience of the Church by having his own man sit at the top. He failed to see that nothing is impossible with God, and so things turned out differently. By divine grace, Becket was converted and stood strongly in defense of the Church. Bearing the same sharpness and wit, Becket called out the king for his errors. Many say the effect is so great that England had split into two parties.
One day, King Henry angrily lamented Becket’s interference in his plans. He felt betrayed. In his anger, the king exclaimed, "Will no one relieve me of this meddlesome priest?" His knights, taking this as an order, went into the cathedral of Canterbury and murdered Thomas Becket.
The king came to his senses and said he never meant for this to happen. But the deed has been done. Becket is dead and it is because of his rhetoric. It was the king's words that moved his blind loyalists to murder the archbishop. The king repented.
Catholic Teachings: Overarching, not overreaching
The Catholic Church which was founded by Jesus Christ himself, has, unlike the others, a unique teaching authority (called the Magisterium). Our faith is not confined within the walls of the church, nor its it boxed within the realm of the theoretical. Christianity requires practice; indeed, it requires no less than the conformity of our lives to the Gospel. Hence, it necessarily affects all aspects of our lives. We are not just called to believe; in everything we think, say, or do, we are called to act on that belief.
When errors and injustices are done right before his/her eyes, the Christian has the moral obligation of standing up for the Gospel of truth, justice, and charity. When virtues are being trampled openly, the Christian has the duty of preserving them. When his brothers and sisters walk in darkness, the Christian has the duty of fraternal correction. When truth is being attacked with lies, the Christian has the right to interfere. When life and human dignity are being mercilessly discarded, the Christian has the obligation of rising to their defense.
Is this hypocrisy? We don't think so. The Christian's primary form of preaching remains to be his/her living example. The Church, founded and protected by divine power, is, in herself, pure and holy. All impurity and unholiness come from us, frail human beings who fall into sin. Any imperfection is to be attributed to us. Yet, despite all our failings and shortcomings, we continue to live with the goodness innate in all of us. This goodness is a part of God Himself, Who implanted it deep within us when we were created. Our frailty is not a reason to give up the fight for sanctity and righteousness. What many fail to see is that hypocrisy lies in calling ourselves Christians yet becoming content with our weaknesses and failures, totally surrendering the battle for goodness and holiness.
Truth, virtues, goodness, holiness, righteousness, the value of human life and dignity, love, and peace… these things are worth fighting for.
It is in these challenging times that we are inspired to live with and enrich this goodness. It is these challenging times that make good Christians rise from their lukewarm faith. Will you heed the clarion call of God's kingdom on earth?
Saint Thomas Becket, pray for us.
By Br. Cedrick C. Sagun Published with approval
Young Thomasian Professionals Lay Dominican Group
Santísimo Rosario Parish, University of Santo Tomás
España Boulevard, Manila 1015 Philippines