St. Thomas Becket’s Martyrdom – The Unfinished Vespers of 29 December 1170

“For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.”  These words, according to an eye-witness account, were spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, as he was hacked to death near the altar of his cathedral on December 29, 1170.  His crime?  He chose to support the rights of the Church, and thus the reign of Christ the King, over his earthly King, and former friend, Henry II.

Frustrated that Becket wouldn’t concede to his demands, which would have eroded the rights of the Church, King Henry is said to have uttered “What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest.”  Four knights who heard this traveled from France to Canterbury to carry out what they took to be the king’s command.  They arrived and hid their swords under a tree outside the cathedral, then went inside and tried to get the bishop to come with them.  When he refused, they retrieved their swords and hacked him to death, splitting off part of his skull, as he was walking to the choir for vespers, which was already underway.

Here is an eye-witness account from Edwin Grim, one of the monks, who was hiding near the altar during the murder: Continue reading

Saints of the Octave

Merry Christmas!  As the eight day celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity approaches its end this might be a good time to look at the different saints who are celebrated during the Christmas Octave.  They are many and varied, so what brings them together during this exalted celebration?

St. Stephen, St. John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Becket, the Holy Family.  Well, probably no one wonders why the feast of the Holy Family falls within the octave, but what about the others?  In their lives we see that the followers of Christ may come from any profession, any background, any culture.  The key is not where they came from, but where they were going – no matter which direction their lives were headed, when they heard Jesus’ call they followed Him unreservedly, even to Calvary and the shedding of their blood.

Martyrdom of St. Stephen

St. Stephen, the first martyr, whose blood bore great fruit for the Church – the grace of his sacrifice turned Saul the Pharisee into St. Paul the Apostle.

St John writing his Gospel

St. John, especially beloved of God, and entrusted with the care of Our Lord’s own Mother, his Gospel teaches us so much about the divinity of Christ.

The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents – babies and toddlers, unable to speak the name of their newborn King, yet giving their lives for Him.  In their martyrdom we see God’s power in bringing grace and goodness out of even the most evil actions of man.

 Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket

St. Thomas Becket – a close friend of King Henry II, but once consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, he didn’t shrink from opposing the king in defense of Christ and His Church, even when it cost him his life.

Though not all were called to follow Him to the same end, they all shared a life-changing love for Jesus Christ.  As St. Thomas Becket wrote in the second reading from today’s Office of Readings, “The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.”

Each one of these saints won the crown of eternal life – some by the witness of their blood, but all by the witness of their life – through sacrifice, prayer, perseverance, and God’s grace; all of which are available to us today, if only we seek and ask.