Saturday, 29 December 2018 : Fifth Day within Octave of Christmas, Memorial of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to the words of the Scripture speaking to us about the Law and the commandments of God, His precepts that He has revealed and given to us, for our benefit and for our salvation. God has given us this Law to guide us and to help us on our way, that we can remain strong in our faith, and not be lost to the sways and the temptations of the world, the temptations and pressures for us to sin.

God intends for us to be reconciled with Him, and to be with Him once again, in His grace. He presented before us the way to Himself, and reminding us again and again, to obey Him and to listen to Him, and through those, He guided us through the perilous and difficult path towards His salvation, and many amongst us fell into the traps of sin, the temptations of the devil who is always constantly at work trying to pull us into damnation.

Unfortunately, as history had shown, despite the laws and commandments that God had given to His people, but many among them failed to understand and appreciate the real purpose and meaning of the Law. The most obvious example was shown in the Gospels, as the actions and philosophy of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law at the time of the Lord Jesus showed us. Those people claimed to be faithful, righteous and devout before others, but in reality, they were not.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law championed the way that required the people of God to live following a very strict and harsh application of the laws of Moses, where the people were expected to obey all the commandments, the precepts, the rules and regulations that were written in the Book of the Torah, as preserved from the time of Moses, the traditions and customs that were added along the way by the elders up to that time.

Yet, despite having outwardly showed piety and devotion to God, but in their hearts and minds, they did not give place to God. That was why, at the same time, many among them refused to listen to the Lord’s truth, when He came into their midst, even performing miracles and speaking words of God’s wisdom, revealing before them what the prophets had once spoken about, all being fulfilled in Christ.

That was because of the pride and ego that were in their hearts, which filled them up and prevented them from opening their hearts to God’s love. For they did obey the Law and follow the precepts of God, but they did so without knowing what the Law is actually all about. And the Law is in fact, all about love, just as Christ has revealed before us all, through His disciples. The essence and the heart of the Law is love, loving God and then loving one another.

And God is love, and He gave us the perfect example of His love, by giving us the perfect and best gift that nothing can surpass. He gave us His beloved Son, Who willingly emptied Himself from glory and majesty, and taking up the humble appearance of Man, born in the poorest conditions, in a dirty stable in Bethlehem, as a King Who was to save His people, and yet not with the power of arms and might, but with love, love that surpasses everything else.

That is why He presented before us, what the Law truly means, that is first and foremost, love for God, like the love which Christ as the Son has for His Father, as example for each and every one of us to follow. Instead of loving ourselves and being selfish, He emptied Himself and gave Himself so completely for the love of God His Father, and for the love He has for each and every one of us. He bore all the sufferings and pains, all of our sins, so that by His suffering and death, we may live.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Scripture readings and what we have just discussed, all spoke of how we should follow the Law of God, with understanding and appreciation of its meaning and purpose, by doing what the Lord Himself had shown us. We must first of all, love God with all of our strength, with all of our ability, and place Him as the first and foremost in our respective lives. And then, we must also love our fellow brethren in the same way, and as much as we love ourselves.

It is when we do not do this, but instead succumb to the temptations of our pride, ego and greed, that we end up sinning against God. Today, we celebrate the feast of a saint, whose devotion and love for God, whose faith and commitment to serve Him, caused him to suffer and to die in martyrdom when he stood by his faith against those who sought to attack the Church and who wished to follow their own ego, pride and greed.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas Becket, a famous saint and bishop who was the Archbishop of Canterbury and thus, the Primate of England, the most important bishop and leader of the Church in the British isles. St. Thomas Becket, prior to his reign as the Archbishop of Canterbury, was once a powerful noble, who was a good and close friend to king Henry II of England, and was appointed as the Chancellor of England, a position that is probably just second to the king in the secular realm.

King Henry II then appointed St. Thomas Becket as the Archbishop of Canterbury, hoping that keeping the highest ranked clergy in his realm close to him, as one of his closest confidants, the king and his fellow nobles could benefit financially and from other collaborations because of this appointment. However, little did king Henry II realised or could have predicted that St. Thomas Becket had a change of heart and conversion after taking up the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Amidst the struggle and controversies between the Church and the state, especially with matters of state jurisdiction and control over the Church, and the appropriation of properties and the right of nobles and the king over the Church matters, St. Thomas Becket stood up for his fellow churchmen, and defended the rights of the Church against the egoistic and corrupt desires of the nobility and the king.

As a result, the growing tension between the Archbishop and the king eventually resulted in the action taken by four nobles with tacit support from the king, in assassinating St. Thomas Becket right at his Cathedral, and thus making him a martyr of the Church, who died defending his faith and the rights of the Church of God, against those who sought to attack it for corrupt purposes.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have seen how St. Thomas Becket went through a conversion of heart and being, from one who lived his life of pleasure and debauchery, into a courageous and committed defender of the faith, who did not fear even going against the mighty and the powerful in his love for God and for His people, the flock whose souls were entrusted under his care. We too can follow in his examples and imitate his commitment to the Lord.

Today therefore, let us all reflect on our own lives, and see in which area that we have failed to live up to our expectation to observe the Law of God, not just in words and in paying lip service like what many of the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, king Henry II and his nobles had done, but with pure and genuine love for God as St. Thomas Becket and many other holy men and women of God had done. May the Lord be with us all, and bless us in our effort to live more worthily of Him, day after day. Amen.

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