Sermon: Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket and King Henry II were close friends. Even though a deacon in the church, Becket enjoyed a rather worldly life, often going out carousing with the young king. Given there close relationship, Henry believed that he could take a firm grip on the church by appointing his friend as Archbishop of Canterbury; therefore, on June, 2, 1162, Thomas was ordained a priest, in the morning on June 3 he was consecrated a bishop, and that afternoon he was installed as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, it was soon clear that Becket’s loyalties had shifted away from Henry to the church and the relationship between the two became strained. This became most evident in an incident where a priest had been accused of murder. At the time, clergy were tried by the church, but Henry wanted such authority under the crown. When the priest was acquitted under the church, Henry was furious and changed the law. From there things deteriorated much more, leading Becket to flee to France in fear for his life.

Eventually Thomas and the king would be somewhat reconciled; however, while Thomas was in exile in France he had excommunicated two bishops in England for giving into the king’s demands, but when he returned to England he refused to lift the excommunication order, which once again infuriated the king. Henry is then reported to have said to four of his knights, “What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.”

The four took these words as a command to go and execute Thomas. They found him at Canterbury Cathedral where they confronted him at the altar of the church. A witness to the events, a monk, Edward Grim wrote, ”The murderers followed him; ‘Absolve’, they cried, ‘and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.’

“He answered, ‘There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.’

‘Then you shall die,’ they cried, ‘and receive what you deserve.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied, ‘to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.’

“Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him ‘pander’, and saying, ‘Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.’

“The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. ‘No faith’, he cried, ‘nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.’

And there, inside Canterbury Cathedral, they murdered Thomas. His final words, ‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’

Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Harry Potter character for you muggles) said, “There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to our friends.”

There will be times when we must make a decision between the demands of the world and the demands of God. Thomas Becket shows us how to stand even when the demands of the world are made by our friends. It will not be easy, but through Christ Jesus, we can hold to the faith that is within us and stand firm.

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