On this 29th day of December, in this Christmas week, the Church remembers and celebrates a great witness to the Faith who met his death in Canterbury Cathedral in England in 1170 - the Archbishop Thomas Becket. His story has always been for me a fascinating read and an inspiring account of the struggle between Church and State, between two worlds that collide in the turmoil of friendships, power, authority and loyalty. On this day in that year the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in the cathedral at the hands of knights who sought to please their king, and with the understanding that the king desired to be rid of this "thorn in his side". This murder did not bring Henry II the freedom from the Church that he longed for, nor the peace that was denied him when his good friend was forced and then embraced the new task assigned to him by Henry, the leadership of the Church in England. Thomas Becket found that he could not serve two masters, and he chose a "higher authority" to listen to, to follow, and to serve. He remained a loyal friend of the King, but he now understood his role as the loyal servant of God. Like another Thomas who had served as Chancellor of England under a different Henry hundreds of years later - Sir Thomas More under the reign of Henry VIII in 1532 - we can see that Thomas Becket would have found that the words that Thomas More spoke before his execution where just as applicable to him - "I die the king's faithful servant, but God's first." Each were different, each their own man, both caught in challenging turmoil that set them on a collision course with authority, but both were men of faith and conviction, who could not accommodate their conscience to the earthly authority of the day, but found that they served "a higher authority."
We need women and men that this today. Maybe the example of Thomas Becket and Thomas More may inspire. Maybe all of us can see that given the loyalties that we are called to honor, there is ultimately a much higher one that we must follow.