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Cardinal Erdo's Homily on St Thomas Becket

Below is the homily by Cardinal Péter Erdő given at Mass in the presence of the relics of St Thomas Becket at Westminster Cathedral on Monday 23 May 2016:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The veneration of St Thomas Becket joins the English and Hungarian communities. Recalling our common history builds a bridge between our nations. That is why it is with great joy that I have brought from Esztergom the relic of the martyr bishop, so in the coming days we can express our veneration for him together and also seek his intercession so that we can answer the challenges of today’s life in a truly Christian way.

The veneration of Thomas Becket in Esztergom goes back centuries. Archbishop Lukács was a fellow student of Becket in Paris. After a time Thomas became Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lukács Archbishop of Esztergom, meaning they were the leaders of the Church in their own countries. In the Church of Europe those relationships and friendships were very vivid, as was the feeling of responsibility and love for the Church. So, just as Becket held the King’s confidence, but was also ready to become an opponent of the King in order to defend the freedom of the Church, Lukács was also a trusted member of the court of King Géza II, he later became an opponent of Kings István III and Béla III, even though these disagreements were followed by reconciliation. Historians consider Archbishop Lukács as a true follower of the reforms of Pope Gregory VII. Lukács died renowned for his saintliness, but did not achieve the crown of martyrdom as Becket did. All of this explains why Esztergom was among the first dioceses in Europe to venerate Becket. On the hill opposite the Cathedral in Esztergom, which is called Mount St Thomas even today,  a church was built for the veneration of the bishop, who became an example and inspiration for priests fighting for the Faith and for the freedom of the Church.

Today daily politics and the mass media expect a lot from religious leaders. But the bishop, as a successor of the Apostles, has to look up to Christ and stand up for his message in the modern society. In this testimony he reacts vividly to real problems, but does not take up ‘daily orders’ from men. He listens carefully to the problems and the sensibilities of today’s men and women, but the merit of his message comes from Jesus Christ. In this fidelity he is strengthened by the solidarity of the Church worldwide, and by his attachment and reverence towards the successor of St Peter.

In today’s Gospel, right after prophesising his sufferings to Peter and the others, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Matthew 16.24).

This is how we all have to follow our faith. Our faith has to be cleansed many times through sufferings and disappointments, until we conform our own ideas to those of God. And we are invited into this pattern of life in today’s Gospel, which says that we have to follow Jesus, we have to become his companions in everything and we have to take up our crosses every single day. It was not only the Son of Man who, by the will of God, had to suffer for humanity; we too have to accept this aspect of our lives, we have to join him, we have to integrate our lives into his work, and only then can we reach happiness with Him.

Following the will of God sometimes brings with it suffering. Jesus tells us who he is, regardless of the expectations of his contemporaries. All we have to do is to learn from him. We learn from him, accept him and build our own lives in accordance with his. If we say that we have accepted him, that we are his disciples, then we cannot walk the path, which we believe to be his, according to our own selfish ideas. Rather we have to pay attention to the person of Jesus. We have to rethink always what his way really is. What he really wants from us. And we might not find this pleasing. It may well be much more difficult, but if we sense that this path is really his, than we should stick to it gladly. Jesus says: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.’

In this spirit we have to pass on the liberating message of Jesus about what marriage means and what the value of the family for us and also about the sanctity of life. About our bearing a special responsibility for our children, parents, families, for our surroundings, our people, our nations and our culture, without however excluding anyone from our love. Our hearts are open to as many people as possible. If we really are one in the faith, then we are able to understand those Christian brothers and sisters of ours who also work for these values with the same love in other countries under other circumstances.

May God grant that our common love and understanding may help the testimony of our bishops and every Christian all over the world. Let us pray for the intercession of St Thomas Becket upon this effort. Amen