by Karen Fitzpatrick, Becketwood Member
We who reside here at Becketwood might not reflect very often on the source of the name for this lovely spot amid massive oaks and colorful gardens. For me, today, December 29, is a day to recall the man behind the name.
As a 19-year-old in the process of becoming a member of the Rochester Franciscans, I was an eager student of the works of Thomas Aquinas and quoted from his texts in my theology classes. My fellow students would sometimes groan when I stood to respond to a professor’s question by beginning with “As Thomas Aquinas says….”
When saints’ names were being handed out on our profession of vows day, we 19-year-olds knelt at the edge of the sanctuary eager to hear the new names about to be ours long into the future. Having asked for any form of Thomas Aquinas, I held my breath as the bishop said “Karen Beyers, you shall henceforth be known as Sister Mary Becket.”
My heart sank. Any public connection to my hero theologian was gone! And who was this Becket? A day later, while complaining to the Novice Mistress about my new name, I told her I had never even heard of this Thomas Becket! She handed me a book on him and said “You will grow into what he stood for.”
I did read the book and began to admire this citizen of England, close friend and fellow carouser with King Henry II, who appointed his buddy Thomas to a top role in his kingdom.
As years passed and Thomas took his role as Archbishop and defender of the Church quite seriously, the friendship frayed. Thomas dwelt for a time in France to be away from Henry, but did return.
One night in a bout of drunkenness with four of his knights, King Henry said to them (at least in T.S. Eliot’s version) “Will no one save me from this meddlesome cleric?”
As Thomas entered Canterbury Cathedral wearing his liturgical vestments for the Liturgy of the Divine Office to be prayed and sung amid candles in the nighttime, the four drunken knights approached Thomas with their swords drawn. He was slain at the entrance to the Cathedral nave.
If you enter Canterbury Cathedral on your next trip to England, you will see the painted red blaze on the wall at the spot where Thomas was cut down.
King Henry apparently had not intended that Becket be martyred. He was experienced enough to know that a dead hero has much more power amid the people. Living heroes eventually fade while a martyr lives in hearts and minds.
Yes, I read the book and saw my future. Not as a martyr. No, I was not at all so inclined. But to take on the powers that be, especially in the political realm: This would guide my young adult years, living as most of us did through the Vietnam War and later Watergate, and so forth.
The pastor of the Rochester parish where I worked in faith formation said: “Your name is in the papers, but please have them identify you with Assisi Heights (the headquarters of the Franciscans), and not with my parish. My phone starts ringing every time you speak or march!”
“Oh Thomas Becket, if I could have even a small slice of your courage!”