29 December 2011

St. Thomas of Canterbury

"To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and loveable in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner."
- from the Icelandic Saga

That’s the description of St. Thomas of Canterbury. A man who had astonishing worldly power, he valued only the power of Christ. A man who had the friendship of royalty, he desired only the friendship of the Divine King. He wore honour as a hair-shirt, and bore truth as a cloak around him. The Church was the mother he loved, and he died defending her maternal dignity.

When the sword was about to fall, he bent his head in prayer, commending himself and the holy dignity of the Church to God's keeping, and to the intercession of Blessed Mary and the martyr St. Denis. After the second and third blow, he spoke softly, "For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death."

This was a bishop after Christ's own heart. As the labourer in the field sweats under the noonday sun, so did the blood pour down the body of this holy labourer for God's own people, until it pooled on the cold stone floor of God's own house. And in the silence of death his blood cried out. It cried out for the king's repentance; it cried out for the Church to stand firm upon her foundation; it cried out for the faithful to come -- and come they did, the pilgrims coming in such multitudes as had rarely been seen. They came to pray with Thomas, the bishop after Christ's own heart, the man blithe of countenance and frank of speech. And Thomas still prays. He prays for the return of his countrymen to the faith for which he died. He prays for clergy to use the courage imparted to them when they were anointed. He prays for all of us, that we may live – and die – "for the Name of Jesus."