It is nothing short of astonishing that a President of a traditionally Protestant country would name last week as a day dedicated to a Catholic bishop killed by a pre-Protestant state. As most readers already know, President Donald Trump proclaimed “December 29, 2020, as the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket” here in the United States.
Becket received his help from Rome, not from the State. Perhaps Trump recognizes it is quite the opposite for conservative Catholics in the USA today: Many support President Trump, not the current events in Rome. It’s a very strange irony that doesn’t line up with Becket. But what does line up with Becket is putting the truth before politics.
In our current Church crisis of dogma and sex, many lukewarm Catholics blithely quote St. Matthew: “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”—Mt 16:18b. They quote this as if God would magically fix our current Church crisis of dogma and sexual-abuse without the blood and sweat and tears of real men and women. These would be the great ones standing in the breach, standing in opposition to any compromise on the law of God.
Our current Church temptation to compromise for the sake of putative Catholic unity at the local is actually nothing new. In the 1964 movie, “Becket,” the twelfth century Saint, St. Thomas Becket is the playboy become primate of England, played by Richard Burton (a movie I’m watching for the second time in a decade). Immediately following his joyful yet frightful conversion, Becket suddenly takes his episcopacy very seriously. In one scene (about an hour before the end of the movie) Becket is preparing to excommunicate a state official who killed a priest. Three other bishops oppose him:
Three Bishops: “I beg of you do not do this. It will strike a blow that will split Church and State for a generation.”
St. Thomas Becket: “If I do not do not strike it now, the Church as we know it now will not survive a generation.
Three Bishops: “God will see that it survives.”
St. Thomas Becket: “No, the kingdom of God must be defended like any other kingdom.”
Notice that the last line is a spectacular line: “No, the kingdom of God must be defended like any other kingdom.” Does Trump know that traditional Catholics are defending the kingdom of God against infiltrators? At least we can learn from that line that in all times in Church history, we desperately need priests and bishops who will do the right thing here on earth in a fleshy, incarnational way, not over-spiritualizing God’s Providence. In other words, it means that God does not fix the Church without real heroes. It means we need priests who will do the courageous thing, regardless of outcome, regardless of the moral heresy of proportionalism (seeking a peaceful end instead of a righteous action) avoiding a desire to keep the health-communist government happy at all costs. (They aren’t going away until they succeed at closing your Churches, so you might as well peacefully resist them now.)
Rather, we need priests and bishops who will do the right thing for the Church at large, standing for Christ and His Church at all costs, to give and not count the cost, “dare nec computare” as St. Ignatius of Loyola said. Certain embarrassing sacrifices may cost us our reputation or even our lives like St. Thomas Becket.
Fr. Richard Heilman gave an excellent sermon on Trump, Becket and Catholics’ resistance to tyrants here: