Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The greatest treason?

December 29 is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, by the king's henchmen. This "troublesome priest" got in the way of a tyrant's desire to control even the church.

There is a couplet in T. S. Eliot's play on Becket, Murder in the Cathedral, which has stuck with me since I first read it in the 1960s:
“The last temptation is the greatest treason,
to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”
In 2004, I took a five day retreat after Christmas with a Jesuit director at the Creighton Spirituality Center in south west Iowa.

This was shortly after a two week visit to the Holy Land – to Palestine and Israel – where I visited a friend who was volunteering with the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. It was a life-changing experience, especially since I had the chance to meet people and not just do the touristy, semi-pilgrim stuff.

I did visit Bethlehem, the Mount of the Beatitudes, Nazareth, and Jerusalem. One highlight was a day spent alone, in silence, in Jerusalem.

I saw a little of the Jewish experience close up since a professor at Tel Aviv University had contacted me and had me speak on Catholicism to his class.

But I spent a lot of time in the West Bank, staying in Bethlehem, visiting Hebron, Jericho, and Lydd, and spending time visiting with my friend’s relatives in Ramallah. I got a taste of the life of Palestinians.

I came back, enthused – anxious to do something.

I shared this during my retreat and my director asked, astutely, “Are you seeking the consolation of God – or the God of consolation?”


And so I waited – and three years later I began my ministry in Honduras.

It is good – and I have a deep sense of peace that this is where God wants me to be. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Car problems and cold weather this week are the least of my difficulties.

But this new year offers possibilities for new beginnings. Most of all, I’ll be spending more time in rural areas of the parish of Dulce Nombre.

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Becket, the martyred bishop of Canterbury, who died refusing to give in to a tyrannical king in 1170. Several centuries later, in 1535, another Thomas, St. Thomas More, died, refusing to give in to a different king.

The witness of these two English saints and martyrs has inspired me. Jean Anouilh’s play Becket and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons touched me in my high school years.

But the phrase from T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, mentioned above, has stayed with me since I first read it decades ago.
“The last temptation is the greatest treason,
to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”
It is not enough to do good – we must strive to do it for the right reason.

And so I look forward to a new year – with lots of opportunities and challenges. May God guide me and all of us to respond with love.


The photo is from a stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral.


phoenixwoman said...

The picture is not showing up.

It's a beautiful essay, and a prayer I'll join you in.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

I re-posted the photo. It had shown up previously.

phoenixwoman said...

Thanks! It's now visible