Thomas Becket was named Chancellor of England by King Henry II in 1154. Eight years later Thomas was elected Archbishop of Canterbury. The relationship of king and bishop was tumultuous. Church and state in Europe were embroiled in a fight for power called the Investiture Controversy. (The failure of Henry’s son John to withstand opposition of Pope Innocent III in the same continuing controversy led to the signing of the Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in English history, in 1215.) Thomas was exiled from England for several years, but when he returned he was no more willing to obey his king. Thomas insisted that the Church had greater authority than the king.
During a government meeting, Henry reportedly exclaimed, “Who will rid me of this man?” Four people present at that meeting thought they would do the king a favor, and so they murdered Thomas in the cathedral at Canterbury on December 29, 1170. Henry recognized a political disaster when he saw one, and he made a great show of sorrow over the death of Thomas. Thomas of Canterbury, after his death, became a great hero of the English people. People made pilgrimages to Canterbury to honor his memory.
Again, the twelve days of Christmas do not guarantee easy and problem-free lives in this world. Like Stephen, though, the martyred Thomas of Canterbury is in Paradise awaiting the great Day of the Lord when all problems will be solved and all troubles fixed. In that promise is peace and joy. J.