BOSTON – Senator Edward M. Kennedy was mourned at a Boston church and laid to rest on Aug 29 at Arlington National Cemetery beside his older brothers, John and Robert, both of whom were assassinated.
In his eulogy, Obama said that through a variety of types of suffering in his life, Kennedy “became more alive to the plight and suffering of others – the sick child who could not see a doctor; the young soldier sent to battle without armour; the citizen denied her rights because of what she looks like or who she loves or where she comes from”.
During the burial service, Cardinal McCarrick, said Kennedy deserved his reputation as the lion of the Senate.
“His roar and his zeal for what he believed made a difference in our nation’s life,” said Cardinal McCarrick.
“Sometimes, we who were his friends and had affection for him would get mad at him when he roared at what we believed was the wrong side of an issue,” he continued, “but we always knew and were always touched by his passion for the underdog, for the rights of working people, for better education and for adequate health care for every American.
“His legacy will surely place him among the dozen or so greats in the history of the Senate of the United States,” he said.
Cardinal McCarrick also read excerpts of letters exchanged by Kennedy and Pope Benedict XVI in the last few weeks. Kennedy sent a personal letter to the pope that Obama delivered during their meeting at the Vatican in July. The Vatican responded a couple of weeks later, the cardinal said.
He explained that he and Kennedy’s family thought using parts of the letters would help “commemorate the faith of Ted Kennedy and the warm and paternal spirit of Pope Benedict XVI”.
Kennedy wrote to the pope: “I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the centre of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.
“I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity,” he continued.
“I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States senator,” he said.
Kennedy also told the pope: “I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”
Cardinal McCarrick said that two weeks later, Kennedy received a reply.
It read, in part: “The Holy Father ... was saddened to know of your illness, and has asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of the universal Church.
“His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the risen Saviour to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life,” it said.
“Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.”
COMMENTARY: Nobody's perfect: Remembering Ted Kennedy
By Father William J. Byron, SJ
Walter Sheridan, who died in 1995, was one of my closest friends. For many years he worked at the side of Robert F. Kennedy as an investigator on the Senate labor rackets committee and as a special assistant to the attorney general as head of what some called the "Get Hoffa" squad in the Justice Department. After Bob Kennedy's death, Walter became a special assistant to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
News of Ted Kennedy's death brought me back in memory to a conversation I had with the senator in the mid-1970s in a corridor of the Russell Senate Office Building.
He and I had met previously on a number of occasions, and as we approached each other in the hallway, he stopped and asked: "Don't I know you? Aren't you a friend of Walter Sheridan's?"
After I responded, the senator smiled, spread the forefinger and middle finger on his right hand in sling-shot fashion, and said, "Whenever I look at Walter, and I see him every day, I can't help but think of Bobby. And whenever Walter looks in here," his two fingers pointing directly into his eyes, "he's trying to find Bobby, but he's just not here."
Sen. Kennedy disappointed his staff assistant on occasion by not voting the way Walter advised on some issues where the two saw the integrity principle that was at stake from different perspectives. But they respected one another and worked well together.
Ted Kennedy will be remembered as a legislative strategist without peer and a truly great United States senator.
But he never claimed to be perfect in his public or private life. Both his critics and admirers will have lots to talk about for years to come.
Upon hearing the news of the senator's death, a priest I know asked whether or not he would be buried in the church.
Of course he will, I said; he was a Catholic in good standing.
True, he was divorced and remarried. But there was an annulment and he had the benefit of the sacraments.
Some will ask whether he was able to obtain the annulment because he was a Kennedy. This excerpt from Adam Clymer's 1999 biography may or may not help clarify things:
"Ted was able to take Communion (at his mother's funeral) because the Catholic Church had granted him an annulment a couple of months before. He and his office never discussed it, but Joan (his first wife) said years later she had not opposed it, and that the ground Ted had cited was that his marriage vow to be faithful had not been honestly made."
In the eyes of the church there is no marriage if the persons entering into it are not free to marry (i.e., already bound to another in marriage), do not enter freely into the marriage (there must be no coercion), do not intend to be faithful to the other, do not intend the marriage to be permanent, and do not have the physical or psychological capacity to make the marriage work.
The annulment process looks at all of these elements, and if there is proof of fraud or misrepresentation on any count, there is, the church declares, no marriage.
I was told by a mutual friend, but have no other proof, that upon learning of his terminal cancer, Ted Kennedy had a meeting with Joan, his first wife, for purposes of apology and personal forgiveness. I have no way of verifying that, nor am I inclined to want to check it out.
Judgment is God's work, not mine.
Ted was too ill to attend his sister Eunice's funeral a few weeks ago. I suspect they are together now with their other siblings, surrounding a mother who died at age 104, and who will be remembered as one who said, "The most important element in human life is faith. If God were to take away all his blessings, health, physical fitness, wealth, intelligence and leave me with but one gift, I would ask for faith, for with faith in him and his goodness, mercy and love for me, and belief in everlasting life, I believe I could suffer the loss of my other gifts and be happy."
As Ted remarked in eulogizing his mother at her funeral, "She was ambitious not only for our success, but for our souls." cns