Sunday, December 30, 2012

On the Fifth Day of Christmas My True Love Said to Me....

"Mediaeval actualities have a violence that does seem comic to our conventions. The Catholics of that age were driven by two dominant thoughts: the all-importance of penitence as an answer to sin, and the all-importance of vivid and evident external acts as a proof of penitence. Extravagant humiliation after extravagant pride for them restored the balance of sanity."

—G. K. Chesterton writing about St. Thomas Becket in A Short History of England

On December 29, the fifth day of Christmas, the Church commemorates St. Thomas Becket, who was Archbishop of Canterbury until his murder, in his own cathedral, on this date in the year 1170.

As I sought to learn more about this man, I discovered and watched the 1964 movie Becket, which stars Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II. The movie ends with Henry receiving a lashing by monks in front of Becket's tomb, as a means of repenting publicly for his influence in the Archbishop's murder. Apparently this did indeed occur, soon after Becket was canonized as a martyr-saint.

It is virtually impossible to imagine a public figure doing public penance of any sort—much less a harsh physical penance, and a penance to satisfy the justice of God—in our time or in our country.

In fact, outside the Catholic Church (and of course the government's penal system), the idea that penance, especially any penance owed to God, is needed or worthwhile for anyone now seems to be largely ignored.

Something I'll have to consider more at another time....

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