Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

August 30, 2009


It was theatre on a grand scale, not in the Roman colosseum or in a Greek agora, but in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Boston's Mission Hill. Yesterday the Mass of Christian burial for Senator Ted Kennedy took place there, "weaving together memory and hope", in the words of homilist, Father Mark R. Hession, and connecting the senator's public committment to social justice with the faith life of "a vibrant and caring family", whose narrative "is woven throughout the history of of the nation for the past half century". As the military ceremony ended with the reverent folding of the flag over the casket, the religious ceremony began with four women carefully draping the pall where the flag had been. The senator's wife, Victoria, was there, tenderly aligning the pall and smoothing out its wrinkles.

Hession's homily touched on Kennedy's prayerful visits to the basilica at the time his daughter, Kara, battled the disease that she survived but that took away her father. Hession, the pastor of the church that served the Kennedy compound on the Cape, told of offering Mass there and praying with the dying senator. The scripture readings were clearly related to Kennedy's vision of social justice: Wisdom 3, 1-9: "The just shall shine and run to and fro like sparks among the reeds." Responsorial: Ps.71 "He shall deliver the poor from the mighty; and the needy that had no helper." Romans 8, 31-39: "Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, the Lord.". Matthew 25, 31-40: "I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink, a stranger and you took me in, naked and you covered me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me."

Kennedy was not canonized yesterday. The homilist adverted to more than mere imperfections. Ted Kennedy, Jr spoke of his father's trip as one of redemption. President Obama, too, made gentle mention of "personal failings and setbacks". The president's eulogy resonated with Catholic belief and tradition and featured his great gift of language. "He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not. And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow." He was a "veritable force of nature... the baby of the family who became its patriarch, the restless dreamer who became its rock." And those left behind, "grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive".

A columnist , David Horney, characterized the day: "How very Catholic it all was. These events often feel much less religious, with liturgy a mere glaze over a civil ceremony. Kennedy, though, was a deeply Catholic man." In his recent letter to the pope, he "connected virtually all his objectives as a legislator to the social teachings of Roman Catholicism".

The day showed great adulation of Senator Kennedy by the movers and shakers of society and by the people on the street caught by TV cameras for their brief comments.

My own view as a blogger: It was a day of reflexion! Life and death seen on a grand scale. Inner coherence of Catholic belief and tradition. Great honesty. Have we ever heard a eulogy for a priest or bishop as forthright as yesterday's? Who put all this together? The Kennedys! Cardinal O'Malley had a minor role. The Basilica is run by the Redemptorist Order. They had practically no role. The Kennedys called the shots. They even had the sidewalk repaired the day before, since it was in bad shape!

Interesting aspect: The senator was pro choice. He had a prior marriage. Victoria, too, was divorced. Local Right-to-Lifers put enormous pressure,
happily unsuccessfully, on Cardinal O'Malley to be absent. How could the Church go along with this? Prominence of Kennedys? No. Could this ecclesastical acceptance of this couple be ultimately a recognition of the right of conscience? Both were people of deep and genuine Catholic faith and apparently regularly receiving Communion at Mass. I think most of us know couples married after divorce, who regard themselves as, in conscience , truly married and therefore participating in the sacraments. Should this be looked into with a possible acceptance of divorce as our Protestant and Greek Orthodox and Jewish brothers and sisters do? Is the life long marriage contract like a title of ownership to a car that is now a clunker in an auto junk yard?

The pro choice situation does not lend itself to such a solution. The life of the unborn is inviolable. But an erroneous conscience must be followed. Some of our fellow Catholics, politicians and others, after thoughtfully weighing a multitude of considerations, even prayerfully, seemed to have reached a conclusion in conscience, however incorrect, of accepting pro choice positions. Can the Church accept a health plan with an abortion flaw in light of many benefits that flow from it? Can the best be the enemy of the good? Tough considerations; tough questions. Can our Church accept imperfect members in the hope of persuasion and development? Has it already accepted Senator and Ms. Kennedy in today's dramatic action of redemption? Can the Church give up its passion for total control? Is Senator Kennedy a hero, however imperfect? This is the point of the polarization in our Church today.