Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder

Christianity, conversion, faith, fear, Martyr, peace, politics, Virtues

Christmas Wake-Up Call: Stoning, Massacre and a Trump PS on Becket

Christmas Wake-Up Call

Christmas Wake-Up Call: Stoning, Massacre and a Trump PS on Becket

Wake-up call? Why do we need a Christmas wake-up call?

Consider that for much of the world, Christmas starts right after Thanksgiving. Christmas music plays everywhere, shopping ads begin and the Christmas trees go up. Weeks later, when Christmas Day finally dawns, the excitement’s extinguished in a few hours. Scattered strips of ribbon, wadded up wrapping paper and tinsel are swept up and discarded. Along with a vast number of dirty dishes waiting to be done.

On the day after Christmas, decorations are taken down and put away.

It was just a day, fun and special but nothing more. “The four walls and the prison windows of their gray days,” return.

For Christians though, Christmas Day begins the two to three week Christmas season. But our celebration differs from the world’s. It’s a strange admixture of joy and sorrow unique to Christianity. Sure we love watching at least two versions of The Christmas Carol, Miracle of 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life. And listening to the corny Christmas music.

However, throughout the Christmas season Masses, the gigantic crucifix looms prophetically over the tender scene of the new-born Jesus lying in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph and the animals. We’re both joyous at Jesus’ birth and intensely sorrowful at the agonizing crucifixtion we cause.

The Church presses with the liturgy of the subsequent days.

  • On December 26th, the first martyr, Saint Stephen, stoned to death by enraged Jews because Stephen had been a follower of Jesus. The Gospel passage carefully notes that Saul was there, watching.
  • On December 28th, we commemorate the Holy Innocents. Herod’s jealousy and fear of Jesus impels him to order the deaths of all infant Hebrew boys under two.
  • The week ends with the memorial of Saint Thomas Becket on December 29th.
  • Our Christmas wake-up call rouses us from the torpor of the feast to plunge us in the blood of the martyrs– lest we think this life is some kind of game.

Saint Thomas Becket

My reread of Murder in the Cathedral, like most of my best ideas, wasn’t mine but that of Father Derek Sandowski. Each Christmas, the priest reads TS Eliot’s play about Thomas Becket’s internal battle over the temptation to submit to his king and former friend, Henry ll, that culmiinates in Becket’s murder. Eliot writes in the style of a Greek tragedy, with chorus and in metered verse, which should preclude our understanding but strangely doesn’t. Rather its rythm sets up a pace, one that accelerates and grows weightier as we read. We can almost hear the galloping hoofbeats of the approaching assassins’ horses in the metered cadence.

Some malady is coming upon us. We wait, we wait,

And the saints and martyrs wait, for those who shall be

martyrs and saints.

Destiny waits in the hand of God, shaping the still un-


I have seen these things in a shaft of sunlight.

Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of


Becket’s internal battle is revealed though the introduction of four successive tempters, each arguing more and more persuasively that he should submit to the king. Eerily foreshadowing Saint Thomas More’s attempts to appease King Henry the Vlll, Becket wasn’t eager to die. The archbishop considers whether he could compromise, even return to being Chancellor again. He’d returned from exile in France due to false promises that the king had softened, that he could return to his beloved Canterbury in peace. With this declaration, Thomas Becket speaks for each human soul:

All my life they have been coming, these feet. All my life I have waited. Death will come only when I am worthy, And if I am worthy, there is no danger. I have therefore only to make perfect my will.

Murder in the Cathedral

Eliot ends his play in exquisitely painful irony and satire. Each of the murderers explains why there was no choice but to kill the archbishop. One soldier’s comment, “No one regrets the necessity for violence more than we do. Unhappily, there are times when violence is the only way in which social justice can be secured,” reads like a maxim for our times.

It’s impossible to read Murder in the Cathedral as merely history. The battle to bound the majesty of the King of the Universe within our deformed human wills rages, ever more intensely as 2023 winds down.

A PS from Trump

On December 29, 2020, President Donald Trump invited schools, churches and customary places of meeting, to commemorate the 850th year of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Beckett. The proclamation is extraordinary and begins with these words: “Today is the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket on December 29, 1170. Thomas Becket was a statesman, a scholar, a chancellor, a priest, an archbishop, and a lion of religious liberty.”

The wording of this proclamation is strident and sounds likes something a pope would write. Or a bishop.

Our former president can best be described as an enigma wrapped up in a mystery. Many have far more colorful ways to describe the former president with good reason. However, then President Trump’s decision to honor a Catholic martyr as one of his last presidential acts is at least curious, if not something other. I’ve read it a few times and have to wonder at the prescience shown in these remarks about American religious liberty and protection of the unborn.

Consider that it’s nearly his last day in office.

And he’s lost the election he was sure he’d won.

And yet he looks back to Saint Thomas Beckett.

We pray for religious believers everywhere who suffer persecution for their faith. We especially pray for their brave and inspiring shepherds — like Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu — who are tireless witnesses to hope.

To honor Thomas Becket’s memory, the crimes against people of faith must stop, prisoners of conscience must be released, laws restricting freedom of religion and belief must be repealed, and the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed must be protected. The tyranny and murder that shocked the conscience of the Middle Ages must never be allowed to happen again. As long as America stands, we will always defend religious liberty.

A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.

President Trump Proclamation Thomas Becket

Canterbury Cathedral Beckett’s “Crown chapel.”

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:

Temptation shall not come in this kind again.

The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason

Murder in the Cathedral
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christmas, henry ll, proclamation thomas beckett, saint stephen

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Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

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