Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Sunday within the Octave of Christmas—December 29 AD 2013


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity
Dominica infra Octavam Nativitatis

    Were today not Sunday, the 29th of December would be the feast of Saint Thomas Becket, the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred on this day in 1170.  I thought about preaching about Saint Thomas, but I was taken by the fact that the two people mentioned in today’s Gospel are—in one way—very much like Saint Thomas, and yet very different in another way.  We will return to Saint Thomas Becket in a moment.

    Simeon, the man we encounter in today’s Gospel, was an old man, “just and devout , waiting for the consolation of Israel” who had been promised by “the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.”[1]  We have to imagine that he came daily to the Temple in search of the promised Redeemer, and on this day his search was rewarded.  Thus, he was fulfilled, and ready to be taken to meet his maker.  Saint Luke records that he uttered the beautiful prayer that we say every evening at the hour of Compline, the bed-time Office of the Church:

    Now, Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant, in peace, according to Thy word.  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast set before the face of all the nations:  A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.[2]

    Simeon was also a prophet, informing the Blessed Virgin Mother

    Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.[3]

    Our Lord would be rejected by many who refused to believe, and were more concerned with the politics of Israel than with eternal salvation;  but He would also raise many more to salvation through His Church.  Mary would suffer with Jesus through her sorrow—though the mother of a King, she did not expect to live the life of a queen.  Many souls would manifest their good intentions to God by sharing the anguish of His sorrowful Mother.

    If we had to describe Simeon, we would use words like “patience” and “fortitude.”  He was willing to live his life in holiness unto old age in order to witness the consolation of Israel in the coming of its Savior.

    We can use the same words to describe the woman Anna, whom we also encounter in the Gospel.  Like Simeon, she was elderly.  She was at least 84 years of age, but the phrase is ambiguous, and could mean that she had been a widow for those 84 years, putting her close to 100 years.  She too waited with “patience” and “fortitude” for much the same reasons as Simeon, adding it would seem, fasting and continual prayer.

    Both Simeon and Anna seem to have been holy people, for most if not all of their lives. In his later years, Saint Thomas Becket seems to share this “patience” and “fortitude” with Simeon and Anna.  He spent roughly six years in exile, and then was murdered, because he refused to let the English King, Henry II bring the Catholic Church in England under the thumb of the Crown.  Four of the King’s knights put him to death at the point of their swords as he began to officiate at Solemn Vespers in his cathedral at Canterbury.

    While sharing “patience” and “fortitude” with Simeon and Anna, what distinguishes Thomas Becket from them is a rather scandalous earlier life.  Becket had been the constant companion of King Henry in his carousing, his drinking, and his womanizing.  The two were so close that the King appointed Thomas to be the Chancellor of all England.  It is said that Thomas Becket was the consummately loyal subject of his King.

    Through the king’s influence, Becket was named Archbishop of Canterbury after the death of the former Archbishop, Theobald of Bec, who had recommended Thomas to King Henry.  For reasons that were mostly economic, Becket had been a minor cleric, but had never aspired to priestly Orders.  King Henry apparently believed that when his good friend was made both Archbishop and Chancellor, the latter would help the king to distance the Church in England from Rome, and to make the English clergy more subservient to the Crown.

    It is said that Becket begged King Henry to not get him appointed Archbishop.  It seems that Becket knew himself considerably better than his friend Henry.  Upon his consecration as bishop—he who had been the consummately loyal Chancellor to the King of England—became the consummately loyal Chancellor of Jesus Christ the Sovereign King in England.  Thomas Becket spent the remaining years of his life persecuted, exiled, and eventually murdered for his loyalty to the King of Kings.

    One has to hold all three of these persons, Simeon, Anna, and Thomas Becket in awe.  Theirs were truly lives that culminated in “patience” and “fortitude.”  Anna in her old age of prayer and fasting; Simeon in his waiting for the “consolation of Israel; and Thomas in his exile and martyrdom for Jesus’ Church.

    But in our modern world, there seem to be fewer and fewer people who have lived in holiness “for most if not all of their lives.”  We are edified by Simeon and Anna for their holiness, but we must be inspired by Thomas Becket—God’s unholy people who can learn to keep His commandments—and can learn to be the loyal subjects of Jesus Christ the sovereign King of Kings and of all the Universe.

Dei via est íntegra
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