Tuesday, December 29, 2015

a matter of principle

Today the Church celebrates probably the most renounced martyr in the English speaking world. Thomas Becket who on this day in 1170 was murdered at Cantebury. Many books and movies recount the events leading up to his murder, but little attention is paid to his beginnings.

We Catholics can forget that seminaries as we know them arose out of the reforms of the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Until that time education leading to ordination was varied and would have often resembled apprenticeship.

Thomas's father was a propertied man who fell on hard times and so Thomas ended up a clerk. It was from the position of clerk in the household of the Archbishop of Cantebury that he rose to position of Archbishop himself. What makes Thomas a great model is that while many rise from obscurity to power by doing whatever it takes to ingratiate themselves with the powerful, Thomas never abandoned his principles. And ultimately, those principles costed him his life.

Today we hear many an intransigent voice claiming that they are holding to their principles. One question: are they the principles of the gospel? Let us never forget that Thomas Becket died not defending his own principles. Thomas Becket died defending the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If I call myself Christian, then the principles I call mine, should in reality not be something of my creation, desire or volition, but should be those principles handed down generation after generation by the Church, received from her founder whose incarnation we celebrate in this Chirstmas Season.