This past week our nation has mourned, undoubtebly, the passing of one the most influential members of the United States Senate in recent memory, Senator Edward Kennedy. Despite his esteemed namesake, Kennedy consistently dedicated all areas of his life to promoting and enhancing the lives of those who Jesus referred to as the “least among us.”
It’s highly ironic and poignant to note that the readings for this Sunday all culminated around the theme of truly acting upon God’s instructions and guidelines for our lives rather than blindly observing them. The second reading from the Letter of St. James says that the a summary of true and sincere religion is “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The responsporial Psalm also proclaims that “the one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Certainly Sen. Kennedy embodied the utmost expression of justice in all of his efforts and initiatives on behalf of those individuals who had been forgotten and left behind by our society.
Of course, we must finally consider Jesus’ own words and actions from St. Mark’s Gopsel. He chides the Pharisees, who have accused Him and His followers of impiety because of their lack of observing certain ritualistic gestures and codes, and reminds them that human traditions are not the crux of honoring God’s law. Quoting the prophet Isaiah He explains, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” On numerous occasions throughout the Gospels Jesus synthesizes precisely what keeping God’s law sincerely and earnestly means, loving the Lord with all our hearts and in turn loving our neighbors (each and every one of them) as ourselves.
How many countless individuals in recent decades have had their lives scarred with the pain of having to live with pronouncements of condemnation, which have been issued without any attempts of empathy or a genuine sense of understanding, on the part of the Vatican? Boys in their gym classes who realize that they find their fellow teammates attractive, women who feel a call to serve the Lord at the Eucharistic table, young girls who suddenly find themselves unwillingly pregnant and have no other options left but to take that most tragic and painful choice in a woman’s life, and loving married couples who because of their financial situations have chosen to space out their children’s births by means of birth control; all of these individuals have been marginalized or disenfranchised in some way or another by the hurtful “infallible” declarations which have been agreed upon by the men who make up the upper echelons of the Roman power edifice. These members of the Church who probably love the Lord just as much as any other Catholic would have been made to feel unwelcome and guilty for the beliefs or different manners in which they’ve chosen to live out their lives.
Sen. Kennedy saw no such distinction when it came to fighting for the rights of the unrepresented or disenfranchised. When the Defense of Marriage, which restricts the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed by states who have legalized it, act reared its ugly head in 1996 he was one of the few 14 Senators who dared to oppose it. Throughout his career he courageously supported the cause of full equality for LGBT individuals, endorsing same-sex marriage, which would eventually be legalized in his state. He also staunchly fought for the right of women to be able to make the decision to have or not have an abortion if need be. This latter stance of his would constantly put him at odds with official Church teaching for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Sen. Kennedy remained vigorous and faithful in supporting all those whose voices he thought were drowned out by the mainstream babble of politics as usual here in America. Perhaps his greatest legacy was his unwavering dream and fight for a universal system of healthcare in this nation which would cover all Americans regardless of financial status or pre-existing conditions. His witness with regards to this particular effort continues to urge and prompt us to swift, comprehensive, and meaningful action in the weeks and months ahead.
Even though he was a devoted Catholic, Sen. Kennedy realized when certain tenants of the Church emanated from selfish, ideological interpretations created by fallible men rather than the mouth of Jesus Christ. He did not hide this apparent dychotomy but continued labor for the causes which he thought devoted his life’s attention and energy. All Catholics could probably learn a lot from Sen. Ted Kennedy, humbly, discerning the will of the Lord, loving Him above all things, and in turn, all individuals as we would wish to be treated. With confidence, we can then face the challanges and trials of this world and even within the walls of our Church, fight for what is right, consoled by the fact, as I’m sure Sen. Kennedy often was in his work, that “The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord” (Psalm 15)