Monday, December 29, 2014

Separate paths

     When we were in the seminary at Saint Francis in Loretto, the theatrical production one year was Jean Anouilh's play Becket, based on the story in T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.  A well known movie adaptation starred Peter O'Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket.  All this took place in the 1100's in England.  Becket was an educated man, a secretary known for his writing capabilities, an assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald.  It was Theobald who sent him to the court of Henry II, where he and Henry became fast friends, with Henry appointing Becket as Lord Chancellor of England.

     Wanting to gain control over the Church in England, Henry appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 upon the death of Theobald, thinking that Thomas would be his man.  But the Lord intervened, and Thomas, a very worldly man who enjoyed the pleasures of life, found himself experiencing a conversion of mind and heart.  He began to take his ministry seriously, and became a champion of the Church's rights over that of the king and the state.  The conflict grew bitter, with Thomas being exiled for a time before returning to Canterbury.

     Four of Henry's knights heard him raging about being rid of this troublesome priest and did something about it.  They murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket in the abbey church as he was on his way to vespers.  Popular devotion for Becket was such that within a very short time, Henry repented and sought sainthood for Thomas Becket.  His tomb became a popular destination for pilgrimage in Canterbury until the time of the Reformation.

     The two worlds of Church and State exist in our lives.  We hope and work for mutual cooperation and respect one for the other.  But the reality is that they are two separate ways, separate paths that, when seeking the message of the Gospel for the common good can and do work together, but when they seek their exclusive interests, they sometimes are at odds.

     I have always enjoyed the story and the play (I was a French knight in the seminary production).  And I find the struggle between those worlds interesting.  I find the developing of a conscience by Thomas Becket that set him on course to defy the king inspiring.  Thomas Moore is another good example of the civil servant who always followed his conscience even when it led to his end.

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