Thursday, 29 December 2022 : 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, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are all reminded of the reason again why we celebrate in this Christmas season, of why we gather together to rejoice in the coming of the Lord, the Saviour of the whole world. God has come into this world to gather each and every one of us, so that we may come to reconciliation and reunification with Him, and receive from Him the assurance of everlasting life and glory. The Lord has come down upon us and appeared before us so that we may come to experience His love, His kindness and compassion in its fullness. We are reminded that the salvation has come to us through the Son of God born into this world and celebrated at Christmas, as we are doing now.

In our Gospel passage today, we heard of the time when the Child Jesus was brought to the Temple of Jerusalem, to be presented and offered to God just as the Law dictated it. Both St. Joseph and Mary brought Him to the Temple, and there, the man of God called Simeon came to them and beheld the One Whom he has been told to await, and the One Whose coming he would witness before he passed on from this world. Simeon told both St. Joseph and Mary about what the Child would do as He would grow and eventually become a Sign for all the people of God, the Sign and fulfilment of everything which God had promised to all of us mankind. Through Christ, the Child presented and offered to God at the Temple that time, God would liberate all of us mankind, His beloved ones from the bondage to sin, evil and death.

Then in our first reading today, we heard of the words of St. John the Apostle in his Epistle as he told the faithful people of God regarding what they are all called to do as Christians, in doing the will of God and in obeying His Law and commandments. The Lord has come into our midst bearing His light and love, revealing unto us His great compassion, in Christ, His only begotten and beloved Son. And it is by this action that the Lord revealed to us what it truly means for us to be His followers, and that, as St. John himself wrote in his Epistle, is that ‘we all ought to live our lives just as He has lived His life, full of obedience to the Lord and full of righteousness, love and commitment to the path that God has shown to each and every one of us. By becoming one like us, in assuming our human flesh and existence, Christ has led us by His hands, to enter into this new existence in God.

We are reminded that as Christ Himself has shown us, the love of God had been revealed and taught to us, that we too may know how to love Him and that we may also be filled with the same love that He has shown us. And that is also exactly what the Law and the commandments of the Lord is all about. As the Lord Jesus told His disciples in another occasion, the Law of God can be summarised in two parts, as ‘Love the Lord your God with all of your hearts, with all of your strength and abilities’ and also ‘Love one another, your fellow brothers and sisters in the same way, just as much as you love yourself.’ The Love of God has been manifested to us, and He has shown us His most generous love in the incarnation of His Son, by sending us the best of all gifts, because through Christ, He has willed to reach out to us and lift us up out of our dark fate of destruction because of our sins.

Because of that, all of us should heed what the Lord had told us to do, to be genuine, faithful and loving Christians, and as we celebrate this joyful season of Christmas, we are constantly being reminded of how God’s love had been manifested before us in Jesus Christ, His Son, born into this world and walking in our midst, extending to us the most generous offer of salvation and eternal life, if we truly can believe in Him and follow Him. We should thus follow Him wholeheartedly in our way of life and not be easily tempted by the many temptations of worldly pleasures and other things that often led man into their downfall because they could not resist the temptation of power and glory. And we also have the saints to help lead us down the right path, in showing us what is meant for us to be Christians.

Today, we remember one of those saints for his obedience to the Lord, to His commandments and Law, against the forces of the world that rallied up against him and the Church. St. Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury living and ministering to the people of God more than eight centuries ago, during the High Middle Ages England, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury was the most important member of the clergy in all of England, the spiritual leader of all the faithful in that kingdom. He was once an English nobleman who was a close confidant and friend of the King of England, King Henry II. The King appointed his good friend as his Chancellor, and therefore becoming a powerful right hand man of the King, managing many of his court affairs and finances among others.

Then, King Henry II tried to gain more influence and control over the Church, which at that time often acted independently of the King and his court, and therefore, when vacancy occurred to the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the King nominated St. Thomas Becket to the position, thinking that by having his friend in that role, he could control the Church and its finances and other institutions better. St. Thomas Becket also remained as the King’s Chancellor while he was concurrently the Archbishop of Canterbury. St. Thomas Becket however went through a thorough change of heart as he went through the ordinations that made him deacon, priest and finally bishop, and was anointed and enthroned as the Archbishop of Canterbury and thus Primate of England.

St. Thomas Becket began to act independently of the King and refusing his efforts and desires to bring the Church under the realm’s control, and insisted on maintaining the independence of the Church and its institutions from any royal or secular influences and control. This then earned St. Thomas Becket the King’s ire and anger, as the King grew more and more restless and disappointed as his efforts were thwarted and resisted again and again, even after he managed to pressure St. Thomas Becket into exile more than once. Nonetheless, St. Thomas Becket continued his resistance against the King’s efforts, excommunicating one of the nobles who abused his authority and who was supported by the King. This continued struggle between King and his Archbishop went on for quite a few years.

And after this long and protracted period of disagreement and conflict, it was there then that the King made a comment in a feast in which he lamented his powerlessness against this man of God and asked if anyone could get rid of him. This was taken as a royal order by four knights who were present there, who then went to find St. Thomas Becket. St. Thomas Becket was martyred when those knights struck at him with their swords at his own Cathedral just as he was doing his prayers. The murder of St. Thomas Becket shocked the whole entire Christendom, and the story of the courage and perseverance showed by St. Thomas Becket very soon inspired many others, and many more even right down to this day, of a man of God who chose to obey the Lord and walk down His path of righteousness rather than to follow the path of worldliness and sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as St. Thomas Becket himself has shown us, let us therefore remember to walk the path that the Lord has shown us, the path of His love and the path of righteousness, loving God and loving our fellow brethren as generously as we can, rather than indulging in our own desire for power and glory as King Henry II and many other men and women of the world had done in the past, which led them to commit great sins and wickedness. Let us all distance ourselves from all those temptations and strive to do in whatever way we can to seek the Lord with a renewed heart full of love and faith in Him. May we all draw ever closer to God through our faithful Christmas celebrations, and through the inspirations from the saints, especially from St. Thomas Becket. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.

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