The conflict between Church and State has always been there for one simple reason, we have two competing kingdoms working for our good and striving for our very existence. One of those kingdoms involves our limited, earthly existence, our rights under the law of man, the common moral good of humanity for the sake of the whole. The other involves a kingdom that, while finding itself living within the human condition in an earthly kingdom, has its roots in an eternal, heavenly kingdom whose justice and peace flows from the love of God for those that he has created. It touches upon the heart of the matter, our eternal salvation, and the common good laid out in the relationship that we have with God.
There are times when these two kingdoms work well together, with mutual respect, and with an understanding of the limitedness of the one and the eternal scope of the other. But there are times when they stand in conflict with each other, over the abandoning of the law of God, or over the denying or diminishing of the rights given by human law, or by hatred, greed, indifference, ignorance or conceit. When those times occur, people of faith stand threatened and, in the threat, challenged to stand and be counted.
From the present moment of continued persecution of peoples because of faith in various parts of the world, the subtle erosion of rights and morality in society and law, even in civilized nations like ours, to those moments in history when respect for the people and the things of God were found wanting, we are challenged. Today the Church honors a man who found himself with a foot in both kingdoms, but a heart that was drawn to the greater choice. Thomas Becket lived in the 1100's England and grew up a close friend of the king, Henry II. Thomas was educated and was even ordained a deacon (it meant less in those days and his situation). He and Henry ran around together and lived a wild life. Henry had a problem with the Church - her property and monies, her autonomy combined with his need for monies for war and the coffers - and saw in Thomas, already a deacon, an opportunity to place his man on the seat of Canterbury as the old Archbishop became ill. Thomas warned him of potential conflict of interest, but the king did as he wanted.
The crux of the problem was that, while still friends with the king, Thomas took his job seriously and underwent a transformation. He was now answerable to God first, the king second. And when the king began to take from the Church, Thomas stood up for her rights. He became a thorn in the side of Henry II, who in a drunken stupor wished him dead. His knights fulfilled his wish and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in the cathedral. A famous story by T.S. Eliot and play by Jean Anouilh and a movie in 1964 tell the gripping story. We have had countless witnesses to Gospel Truth and the heavenly kingdom over the centuries with Becket being one with a great story. The problems continue to exist, the challenge to respond continue to be there, and the cloud of witnesses continue to provide inspiration and strength.