Today the church remembers Thomas Becket, 1170.There is no more celebrated English saint than Thomas Becket, who was treacherously murdered in his own cathedral during Christmastide. The four knights who chopped him down were unwittingly dispatched to do so by King Henry II, who had grown weary of years of conflict with Becket over the relationship between the church and the crown. Henry and Thomas had been comrades, and the king had nominated him for Archbishop of Canterbury in part because he thought he could influence him. That had not turned out to be the case. When Becket took the Chair of St. Augustine, he turned from the convivial life of a courtier to the austere life of an ascetic and became a champion of the poor and of the rights of the church. Henry II sought to control and use the church for the crown's political and economic aims. He never intended to have Becket killed, but after years of altercation he exclaimed, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Four of his knights set out to oblige the king, and a few days later they fell upon the archbishop in his cathedral at Canterbury and killed him. Thomas Becket's death signaled a victory for his cause since it resulted in the rallying of enormous public pressure against the king. The slain archbishop became a symbol of the integrity and independence of the church from an oppressive government. The sainted archbishop was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, and the site of his death became a shrine. For many generations it was the most popular place of pilgrimage in the British Isles. Help us, like Thomas, defend your church from those who would harm it. Amen.
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O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church; Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.