The Deacon's Bench

Years ago, Rose Kennedy said that she used to dream that her youngest son would grow up to be a priest.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Not by a long shot.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard a lot about the life of her youngest child, Ted Kennedy – the good, the bad and the ugly.

But what has been most interesting to me is to learn about his faith, particularly in the final years of his life – stories of his daily trips to church to pray for his daughter, masses held at his home, his final days spent with a priest by his bedside.

Whatever the breadth of his belief, it had very deep roots. Kennedy often credited whatever faith he had to just one person: his mother. And her faith was, indeed, remarkable. This weekend, when we’re hearing so much about Senator Kennedy, I’d like to turn some attention, instead, to another Kennedy, one many may not know.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to see part of a TV interview that Rose Kennedy did in 1974 with Robert McNeil. Near the end, he asked her how she coped with all the tragedies in her life. And, let’s remember: they were enormous. She had nine children. Four of them died young. A fifth child, a daughter who was named for her, was born mentally handicapped, underwent a lobotomy, and spent the rest of her life in an institution.

Looking back on all that, McNeil asked Mrs. Kennedy: how do you cope? How can you possibly say – as you do in your autobiography — that your life has been happy?

And Rose Kennedy, without even taking a breath, replied, “It’s my faith.”

“If I only had one gift,” she explained…”if I lost my wealth or my looks or my health…and just had faith, I could still accept the trials which God has sent me.” And she added: “I trust him. He will never give me a cross heavier than I can bear. He will always give me graces to bear them.”

Then, she brought it all home.

“When I think of all the great tragedies of my life,” she said, “I think of the Blessed Mother. She watched her son being crucified and reviled, and still she trusted in God.” Rose Kennedy continued: “I’ve thought of her so often at the crucifixion… When I saw Jack in the Capitol rotunda, and Bobby in New York.”

I can’t think of the last time I heard a public figure speak like that.

Yet, Rose Kennedy held onto that — through the bloodshed, and the tears, and the scandals and all the flag-draped coffins.

It was extraordinary. And it was a reminder, I think, of God’s grace.

Of course, that wasn’t just Rose Kennedy’s personal theology. All of that – the abiding faith, the trust, the reliance on God through impossible challenges – all of that also characterized the life of the Blessed Mother. That is where Rose Kennedy got her strength, and her inspiration. From Mary.

And now, I think, is a very good time to keep Mary in mind. We just celebrated the Assumption, and her Queenship, and soon will mark her birthday. All these feasts culminate with our parish feast day, which falls on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows – a feast that must have had special meaning for Rose Kennedy. She knew in a particular way the weight of the cross, the sharpness of the sword.

And yet she endured them all with a deep and unshakable faith.

Could any of us do as much?

Well, these weeks offer us an opportunity to look at our own faith, and to pray that it deepens and grows.

And this Sunday’s scripture offers some advice. The letter from James today assures us that “all good giving, and every perfect gift, is from above. “

That is the place to start.

From above…we are given the gift of hope.

From above…we are given courage.

From above…God offers us the gift that sustains all who seek His face.

The gift of faith.

Part of that faith, I think, involves surrender – letting God use us as He sees fit.

That included Mary, the handmaid of the Lord. And it includes, as well, the rest of us, even the most broken.

A writer this week recalled Dorothy Day, a former atheist and anarchist who is now a candidate for sainthood. He wondered what would have happened if Dorothy had decided she wasn’t good enough. What if she just gave up and asked the question: “What can God do with a poor sinner like me?”

God, it turns out, can do anything, if we are willing to cooperate with Him. And that is the key.

In his letter, James exhorts the early Christians to be “doers of the word, not just hearers.”

In other words: cooperate with God. Put faith into action. Find ways for God to use us.

To paraphrase St. Teresa of Avila: we are now His hands, His legs, and His body. What will we shape with those hands? Where will go with these legs? What will be bear on our shoulders?

What will we do?

What will we do for Him?

For it is in the doing – in the living of the gospel, day by day, moment by moment, choice by choice – it is in the doing that we make Christ present in the world today.

It is in the doing that we are redeemed.

And it is in the doing that we can help, in some small way, to redeem the world.

Rose Kennedy, I think, did her part, with quiet prayer and perseverance. Here was a modern mother, dealing with modern problems that the mother from Nazareth would never have imagined – but coping in a way that she certainly would have understood. Rose, like Mary, never gave up, or gave in. In spite of everything, she never lost her trust in God.

Of course, with Mary as her model, Rose Kennedy learned from the best.

And I think we can, too.

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