Sunday, January 7, 2018

Some thoughts on the Feast of St. Thomas Becket

I have been the pastor of two parishes which have as their patron saint a bishop who was slaughtered by knights in shining armor. St. Thomas Becket was one such bishop. He was a pliable friend of King Henry II of England. Thomas was in Holy Orders, a deacon I think, so the newly crowned king decided to appoint his old friend Thomas to be the leading bishop of the realm. No sooner than ordained, Thomas started being difficult. He zealously guarded the right of the church to try misbehaving clerics. He thought it a vital principle for guarding freedom of religion. He was hounded out of the country, and when he returned he was killed by a few of the king’s knights, with or without the collusion of the king. No one is quite sure.
St. Lambert has a similar story.  Lambert was a monk of an impeccably aristocratic background. Around 700 AD he was appointed bishop of Maastricht and Liege by Prince Pepin of Herstal. He promptly became less pliable and denounced Pepin’s carrying on with his mistress Alpaida. (You’ve got to love the names) Again, the retainers of Prince Pepin murder Lambert.
 In all of this you must be thinking, doesn’t the pope appoint bishops? Actually, he doesn’t. He usually approves candidates put forward by the local church. Until very recently the local powers had a lot to do with appointing bishops and even popes. Until modern times, the powerful have always interfered with the election of popes. The emperors of Constantinople had to approve the election of the Bishop of Rome by the clergy and people of that city until the 800’s. In 1059, Pope Nicholas II decided that only the pastors of the main churches in Rome (the cardinals) would elect the Bishop of Rome, because the whole thing was getting out of hand, riots, politics and all. The man elected still had to have the approval of the priests and people of Rome.
In 1139, the need for popular approval was dropped and the pastors would elect the pope, the Bishop of Rome. In 1274, it was decided that the cardinals would be locked up (conclave, meaning “with a key” or “lock down”) to reduce the chaos, politics and rioting in the streets. But they couldn’t keep out the powerful completely. Catholic kings had rights of election and claimed a veto over papal elections. Each king had a cardinal, who could apply the royal veto during a papal conclave. The last time the royal veto was us used was in 1903, when Austria opposed the election of Cardinal Rampolla, so the conclave elected Cardinal Sarto who ended up as St. Pope Pius X. Six months later Pius ended the practice.
Governments have always tried to control the elections of popes and bishops because the Gospel of Christ is the only thing more powerful than the state. Governments hate when their subjects have a higher loyalty than the loyalty rendered to the state. So, the power of governments over episcopal and papal appointments ended in 1903? Hardly! Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain claimed the patronato real, the privilege of Spanish kings to name bishops and veto appointments from bishops all the way down to the parish priest. This only ended in 1973. Today the Chinese government claims the same exact privilege. At least this abuse has ended everywhere but China. Don’t count on it. We have a new kind of government. You may think that much of the world has adopted government by the people of the people and for the people. Nonsense!
We are governed by news agencies and talk show hosts. The constant flow of information and opinion that we carry around in our pockets on our no-so-smart phones tells us what to think, of whom to approve and for whom to vote. It tells us how many genders there are and how to define marriage and which children have the right to live and which children and old people should die. This same info-government tells us that priests who defy Catholic tradition regarding marriage and preference are heroic and those who hold to the Gospel preached these two thousand years are narrow-minded, fundamentalists and Pharisees. The yammering classes can hound any bishop or priest out of his pulpit, so we try to combat the whole usurpation of the freedom of the Gospel by beating them at their own game.
And so, somebody at the Vatican has just hire a company called Accenture to design and manage the Holy See's new internet news service. The have asked the fox to completely redesign the hen house. The company in question, Accenture, is famous throughout the world for promoting a political and moral agenda diametrically opposed to Catholic moral teaching. So, the new rulers of the world have just been given a veto power to elect and depose popes and bishops and priests just as governments have always wanted. 
When the Sadducees were asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” they shouted, “We have no king but Caesar.”  I guess we are there in the crowd with them. We have no king but the media. God help us.
Rev. Know-it-all

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