“Becket’s cause is not our own,” said his successor Justin Welby speaking at Southwark Cathedral on Friday.
“We do know better than him in some areas. But too often his courage is not our own either; the courage that puts our all in the hands of God, and like the modern martyrs sees death as simply the cost of discipleship.”
The present Archbishop of Canterbury was preaching during Choral Evensong on the 850th anniversay of predecessor St Thomas Becket visiting the cathedral days before his murder.
Justin Welby reminded the congregation that today the Church does not usually seek to avoid secular law. But he did invoke the example of ‘the 20th-century Becket’ St Oscar Romero whose national shrine is at St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark.
Dean of St George’s Richard Hearn brought a relic of St Thomas from his cathedral for the service.
“What is wrong is wrong, and at times that necessitates confrontation with the courage of Becket – albeit not his cause,” said Archbishop Welby.
“That courage was found in Jeremiah and in St Paul. In the apostles before the Sanhedrin. In Paul before the Emperor. In our living memory, Bonhoeffer before the Nazi court. Oscar Romero before his Government.”
“It is found around the world, anonymously, today in hidden fields in Northern Nigeria, on the beaches of Libya, in prisons unknown and dark places forgotten. It is found where brave people stand for the light that Christ sheds, sometimes unknowingly, and hold to the truth that the darkness will never quench the light.”
Later the Archbishop added: “When children go hungry in 21st century Britain, we must speak – because God says so in scripture. We heard it in the Magnificat just a few moments ago.
“When aid to the world’s poorest is cut, we must speak – because Christ commands a bias to the poor, not the trickle-down theory of economics; to love our neighbours like the Good Samaritan did when the ‘neighbour’ was just a human being in trouble from an enemy country of which he knew little.
“When the refugee or the immigrant are vilified. When a Muslim woman cannot go on public transport without insult, or a Christian cannot read a bible without persecution. When a man has his neck knelt on till he suffocates. When a pastor is arrested for speaking of Christ, the Church of that and every country must say this is wrong, whatever the democratic vote or popular thinking or Government collusion.
“Paul is on the point of death when he writes to Timothy. He speaks of the love of Christ and the hope of salvation proclaimed whether it leads to trouble or not. He speaks of truth which a loving Church seeks and proclaims in each generation. He speaks of urgency, not political expedience.”
The service remembered not just Southwark’s Becket anniversary but, due to the virus, was the opening of the delayed Becket 2020 programme marking the 850 murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Its cathedral is marking the actual anniversary on Tuesday 29 December.
Both cathedrals are preparing for the resumption of pilgrimage along the Southwark to Canterbury Pilgrims’ Way next year.