I can’t recall if I mentioned but I am a native Bay Stater. In fact, Ted Kennedy has been my senator for my whole life– in fact, he has been a senator almost as long as my parents have been alive. I have had severe philosophical differences with the senator both on issues of governance (I’m a liberal in the classical sense, not in the big government sense) and moral ones (yes, red flag to a bull, the abortion issue). I also have hated the mystical near-worship of the Kennedy clan in this area– I don’t believe fantasy of that kind is good for anyone, especially not the person (or group) being lionised.
The Catholic blogosphere, which generally crosses the political spectrum, has been ablaze with the subject of Ted Kennedy’s death. What I have encountered has been just- neither sugarcoating his sins nor claiming to know the status of his soul. I’ve had a lot of disparate thoughts about this subject, but I wanted to add my two cents in my own little corner of the internet.
From a Catholic perspective, there are a few things to be said about the senator. There are rumors (many substantiated) of infidelity and alcoholism. There is the sad story of Mary Jo Kopechne whose life was imperiled by Kennedy and whose death was caused by his failure to procure help. And the clincher for most devout Catholics- the one thing that they really can’t get past- is his support for abortion.
And by all rights, abortion is something we should never “get past.” There is no getting over so grave an evil.
But stories have started to trickle out that have made me look Ted Kennedy in a different light. I don’t do well at personal malice (atleast of people I don’t know, excluding Andrew Jackson whom I despise– no room for explanation), so I never disliked Teddy K– in fact, he’s someone I imagine I would really like on a personal level. He and his family also have my sympathy for having suffered so many tragedies. It cannot have been easy to have been the last brother out of four when the other three all died young and tragically.
The stories have to do with prayer. I heard someone say that the Eucharist was the center of his life. I don’t know if that was true. But I do know of two different people, both of whom disagreed with him politically, that they saw him praying.
The first is from Kathryn Lopez, who writes for the National Review, saw him at daily Masses in DC when she dropped in from an internship at the Heritage Foundation (a conservative thinktank). And not just once or twice. As she said, “[H]e probably led some people astray by his example. But our faith also teaches that we are all sinners and that there is redemption.”
The second is from a man, I don’t remember his name, who lives in the area of the basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, covered in the Boston Herald. He described himself as a ‘small goverment guy,’ and also as someone who dropped into the basilica having been taught by nuns to visit our Mother daily. He too saw Senator Kennedy there, in the pew, deep in prayer. This gentleman, who serves as an acolyte at noon dailies, had hoped he’d be allowed to serve, political differences aside. Most important to me, however, is that these stories were not told while the senator lived– his prayers were not for show.
There is no escaping the fact that Kennedy’s flaws and particularly his public political support for abortion have given scandal and also have harmed the Church through tacit encouragement of the view that one can be a Catholic in good standing and support morally objectionable causes that have been expressly prohibited by the Vatican. But there is also no escaping God, whose standard shows all of us that our “good standing” leaves quite a lot to be desired.
I will make no excuses for Senator Kennedy’s actions; they are grave ones indeed. But reading all these little tidbits, listening to the eulogies at the wake and the funeral (Teddy Jr.’s was especially good), I felt little tugs on my memory. Wisps of the story wafted around my brain until I could finally grasp just whom this Ted Kennedy I was just starting to know reminded me of: the tax collector in the temple.
Remember that parable? Two men go to the temple to pray. The first is a pharisee who thanks God that he follows all the laws and is better than lots of other people, including the second man.
The second man, a public sinner by virtue of being a tax collector, doesn’t even approach the front, doesn’t even look heavenward. Instead, so conscious is he of his sin that he only stands, pleading with God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!”
I don’t have any special knowledge of anything, let alone Ted Kennedy’s soul. But, for all his faults, though they were grave and in some cases persistent, I just have this inkling that he clung to prayer like that second man. The good father at the Byzantine Rite church we go to occasionally said today, in that Tradition, we say that we are the first of sinners in the Liturgy– a Liturgy which is suffused with petitions for God to be merciful. Perhaps that is the lesson of Senator Kennedy’s life to those of us who remain- a reminder that we are all wholly dependent on the mercy of God.
And just because it’s a beautiful prayer that bears repeating, here is the prayer Byzantine Rite Catholics (in various Churchs- e.g. Ukrainian Catholic Church), say before receiving the Eucharist:
I believe, O Lord, and confess that You are indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.
Of Your mystical supper, make me a partaker this day, O Son of God, for I will not speak of Your mysteries to Your enemies, nor like Judas will I give You a kiss, but like the good thief will I confess to You.
Remember me, O Lord, when You shall come into Your kingdom.
Remember me, O Master, when You shall come into Your kingdom.
Remember me, O Holy One, when You shall come into Your kingdom.
Not for judgment, nor for condemnation be for me the partaking of these Your Holy Mysteries O Lord, but for the healing of my body and soul.
O God be merciful to me a sinner. God, cleanse my sins and have mercy on me. Innumerably have I sinned, forgive me, O Lord.