Saint Thomas Becket by Sir Ninian Comper in Saint Mary, Wellingborough
As we continue through the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord, today the Church commemorates Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury and martyr for the faith in 1170. Chief amongst the reasons for the holy bishop’s brutal murder, in his own Cathedral Church, was his resistance to King Henry II’s encroachment of civil power over the life of the Church, and particularly her clergy. For this reason Becket is today the patron of the diocesan clergy of England, and for this reason his cult – which was remarkably strong and widespread in England, as in Norway, and even parts of France and Spain – was particularly targeted during the dark days of the Protestant Reformation, which itself placed the English sovereign as the head of an established or state church.
In today’s gospel we find a paradigm for Saint Thomas Becket’s faith and resolve. Christ, who during the season of Advent the Church names ‘lawgiver’ (cf. O Emmanuel), is himself the fulfilment of the law and, thus, above the law. By his precepts we Christians are called to live, just as by his judgement we are saved. In the confessional it is Christ who judges us through the person of the priest, always handing down a sentence of mercy. And yet, in this scene of his presentation in the temple, Christ submits himself to the law of Moses in order to honour the law, to honour his heavenly Father, and to fulfil the law in letter and spirit. His obedience, an obedience which we will see lead him to the cross, is made manifest in this act of submission, so that by following the law which he comes to fulfil, we too might be made partakers in his heavenly glory.
The law is not, then, an encumbrance to our life in Christ, but an essential element to its success. Christ comes into our earthly realm to restore the order which results from the chaos of our sin; of the fault of Adam and Eve in Eden’s garden paradise. So also he comes to order our lives by applying regulation – regula, religion, rule – in order to keep us on the narrow path which is the way of the Lord. We see this in divine and natural law, as also in those things which allow us to navigate the Christian life and which, by their observance, help us to submit ourselves to the law as did Christ, and so grow in stature and wisdom. May Saint Thomas Becket aid us in this endeavour by his prayers, that we may have the docility and humility of Christ which he embodied. And may we be given the courage and resolve to imitate such virtue in our own lives, whatever the cost, that in following Christ in this life – living in obedience to his law – we may be judged worthy to remain with him in the next.