Within Christmastide Flows a Crimson Tide

News: Commentary
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 29, 2017   

The martyrs show forth the reason for the season

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The triumphs of the martyrs over their persecutors are most clearly seen during the Octave of Christmas with St. Stephen, who converted St. Paul, and St. Thomas à Becket, who converted King Henry II.

On December 26, the Church celebrates the death of St. Stephen, whose prayers during his martyrdom converted his persecutor, the young St. Paul. As early as the fourth century, St. Augustine preached, "If St. Stephen had not prayed, the Church would never have had St. Paul."

On the fifth day of Christmas, December 29, the Church celebrates the death of St. Thomas, who had a similar effect on his persecutor, England's King Henry II. Two years after the death of St. Thomas, in which the king was complicit, King Henry offered many public tokens of his sincere conversion from his murderous and anti-Catholic ways.

The contrite king made a pilgrimage to Becket's tomb in Canterbury. Even more surprising, he made the last stage of the pilgrimage barefoot, a great sign of humility for a king in his day. Historians recount how Henry II knelt at the porch of the cathedral and kissed the stone floor on which St. Thomas had been slain.

He then wept at Becket's crypt and confessed to the bishop his fateful utterance, "Who shall rid me of this troublesome priest." Along with clothing himself in sackcloth and ashes, he submitted to a public flogging by monks at Becket's tomb.

He went on to build a chapel in honor of St. Thomas at Dover Castle and to reverse the Constitutions of Clarendon that had asserted the authority of England over the rights of the Church. The king's many actions have convinced historians of the authenticity of Henry's conversion. Catholics, however, see the hand of St. Thomas guiding that conversion.

Watch the panel discuss yet another Christmas martyr in The Download—St. Thomas à Becket. This week's topics on The Download include the Holy Innocents and Christmas Violence, among others.

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