Christ has been born for us: come, let us adore him.
Year: A(II). Liturgical Colour: White.
St Thomas Becket (1118 - 1170)
He was born in London and became a close friend of King Henry II. He was only a deacon when he was appointed chancellor of England. When he was ordained as archbishop of Canterbury, he underwent an abrupt conversion of life and began to defend the Church’s rights against the king. He had to take refuge in a French monastery for six years, and when he returned to his diocese four knights, inspired by careless words from the king, assassinated him in his cathedral on 29 December 1170. He was immediately acknowledged as a martyr and the king later did penance and endowed his shrine. He is remembered for his courage in defence of the rights of the Church. See the articles in the Catholic Encyclopaedia
Elijah and Elisha, a reflection on St Thomas
The prophets Elijah and Elisha are a bit of an embarrassment. Not only are the names similar but some of their miracles resemble one another so closely that some scholars have argued that Elijah and Elisha are the same person, with narratives from two different sources of the prophet’s life having been accidentally included one after the other.
Today’s feast reminds us of another historical coincidence:
A learned and worldly man called Thomas, a close and trusted friend of King Henry, is appointed by the king to a high office where he is expected to be loyal and take the king’s part against all others, even the Church. Conscious of his unworthiness for the office he has been given, Thomas suffers an interior conversion and resolves to follow his conscience, God’s voice within him. His upholding of truth and the Church’s rights leads to a conflict with the king, who feels betrayed by his trusted friend. Eventually Thomas is killed; subsequently he is canonized.
Are we talking about Henry II of England and Thomas à Becket? Or Henry VIII of England and Thomas More? The same description applies equally to both.
We can imagine a wise scholar of the 30th century arguing that there was only one Henry and only one Thomas, and that early sources accidentally split them into two. But the wise scholar would be wrong. Whatever doubts we hold about the history and transmission of Scripture, we should never quite forget that what we read about may be what really happened.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153)
Bernard was born near Dijon, in France, in 1090, of a noble family. In 1112 he joined the new monastery at Cîteaux. This had been founded fourteen years before, in a bid to reject the laxity and riches of much of the Benedictine Order of the time (as exemplified by the great monasteries such as Cluny) and to return to a primitive poverty and austerity of life.
Bernard arrived at Cîteaux with four of his five brothers and two dozen friends. Within three years he had been sent out to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, in Champagne, where he remained abbot for the rest of his life. By the time of his death, the Cistercian Order (“the Order of Cîteaux”) had grown from one house to 343, of which 68 were daughter houses of Clairvaux itself.
Bernard was a man of great holiness and wisdom, and although he was often in very poor health, he was active in many of the great public debates of the time. He strongly opposed the luxurious lives of some of the clergy, and fought against the persecution of the Jews. He was also a prolific writer, and the Liturgy of the Hours uses extracts from many of his sermons.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)
|Titus 2:11-12 ©
God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world.
|Noon reading (Sext)
|1 John 4:9 ©
God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him.
|Afternoon reading (None)
|Acts 10:36 ©
God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ – but Jesus Christ is Lord of all men.