I have been watching the evolution of commentary on the death of Ted Kennedy with a great deal of interest, with an eye towards instruction. Lest it be the least bit unclear, I am hard pressed to remember a time--any time--when Ted Kennedy and I wound up on the same side of an issue, and my opposition to him was generally on principal, not on party.
I wondered how the Catholic press and bloggers would respond to the death of someone so visibly associated with the Catholic faith, and in recent years, so often at odds with it. More than that, I wondered how I would react and then respond. As always, I’ve been surprised by the Spirit, at work in others, and moving in my own hard little heart.
One of the best discussions I’ve heard about the contradictory public nature of Ted Kennedy is at Word on Fire, where Fr. Barron reminisces about growing up in a profoundly Democrat household, and traces his own spiritual evolution of thought against the political career of Ted Kennedy. It is a moving discussion, kindly at the same time it is honest, and as inward-directed as it is outward.
By contrast, one of my favorite Catholic bloggers took the opportunity to post a satirical article on Kennedy’s death, skewering the press and its coverage both of the event and of religion in general. Taken objectively, it’s a masterful parody, well crafted, and directed at those who set themselves up as targets by their own behavior.
So why does it bother me so much?
Mind you, I have a tongue that will cut cheese, and I am not known in my more immediate precincts as a particularly kindly person. I do not suffer fools gladly, if at all, and have been known to be merciless in my pursuit of principal or against an adversary. The main stream press drives me absolutely berserk, to the occasional point of apoplectic, wordless rage, with its bias, its hypocrisy and its nurturing of a culture of narcissism and death. So do Catholics, politicians or otherwise, who openly flaunt the doctrine of the Church. It is not one of my more commendable traits.
The death of a prominent man is no time to take potshots at either the man himself or his faith, nor is it right to use any man’s own flawed life as the basis for a moral battle charge when his family still grieves and his body isn’t even committed to the ground. My good Mama taught me that there’s a time and a place for everything, and this is just not the time to be dissecting Ted Kennedy’s sometimes very public flaws.
The reality is this: I really can’t correct the shortcomings of anyone else other than my own poor and sinful self. If my brother sins, perhaps I need to address my own flaws first--what I am doing that encourages him in his sin, that fails to draw him to the light. If, for example, American Catholics lived their faith at the voting booth, it would be very difficult for politicians of any party to support abortion or to fail to make proper provision for the least among us. If, perhaps, more of us prayed for and did penance for those whose faults we see so clearly, in addition to--if not instead of--complaining to everyone who will listen but no one who can make a difference, who knows what might happen? And in the meantime, I am very grateful that I may throw myself on the mercy and care of Christ and His church. Can I expect less for any of my brothers or sisters in Christ?
The reality is that there’s a family grieving for a man who has died. Like all of us, he had faults and he had glorious moments of grace. Few of us will ever know the pressures or the power he experienced, few of us will face the kinds of tragedies he endured and caused. We cannot know what was in his heart, but we know this:
At the very least--the very least--he professed to know and love and serve God. At the very least--the very least--he was a brother in the Catholic faith. There will be plenty of time to dissect his public accomplishments, and to draw tales both celebratory and cautionary from them for ourselves and for others.
For now, it seems a time for love (the action) and grace (the reality).
Christ our Brother and our Advocate, be merciful to our brother Ted, as we ask You to be merciful to us when it is we who are to be judged.