Saturday, 29 December 2012

29th December 2012 - St Thomas a Becket

The coming of the Word made flesh begins a new way for people to relate to one another and God. Around the preaching of the Good News Jesus proclaims a new community of values, concerns and trust grows. It crosses boundaries of language, culture, ethnicity, economics and political power despite persecutions arising as state rulers feel confidence in their values and concerns is challeneged and threatened. Secular rulers emerge who are wise enough to adopt Christian faith, or engage it into their thinking. But there are always tensions between how churches understand their role and responsibilities, and the how the state would like things to be.

Christianisation of cultures and societies is never complete because of the way they continually evolve and adapt to changing circumstances. Christian values and convictions can profoundly influence how society develops, but it's only authentic and lasting as a result of dialogue between witnesses to the Gospel and everyone else with ideas about how to make things better. Imposition of religion always proves a failure sooner or later. It taints successes the church achieves for the common good. Transforming dialogue between religion and society, church and state, is possible only when each other's autonomy is accepted and respected. The world needs to understand and respect that sense of 'otherness' about the church's existence to be blessed by it. This is part and parcel of what incarnation means in human history.

This day of Christmas, St Thomas a Becket the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury is remembered. Although the leading prelate of the twelfth century British church, his relationship with King Henry II was conflictual because Thomas insisted that the church had a certain independence, rights of its own and loyalties transcending national interests because of its communion with the Roman Papacy. Thomas was exiled six years in France as a result, and with matters still unresolved when he returned, tensions continued, as Thomas reminded the king of the limitations of his power and authority. In the end, Thomas was murdered in his own cathedral by Henry's own knights. Four hundred years later, another Thomas - Thomas More - was martyred by order of another Henry (VIII) for his refusal to sanction a formal break in allegiance between the British church and the Papacy during the reformation.

Stories of this kind of heroic spiritual courage repeat themselves in different countries around the world over centuries of Church growth. They are a reminder to faithful people everywhere eager to make sure their witness to faith to the incarnate God is relevant. Although we belong in the world, tension with the world never goes away, for we are not 'of the world' once we let God rule over our hearts and lives.

Christ 'came into his own and his own knew him not, his own people would not recognise him.' The same has always been true of the Church called to be the Body of Christ on earth here and now.

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