The following post was written by The Christophers’ Jerry Costello. It’s followed by a podcast of my interview with Mark Shriver:
You’ve spent a lifetime reading about Sargent Shriver, if you’re like most of us, and by now you probably think you know him pretty well: Kennedy in-law; Peace Corps founder, vice-presidential candidate, Special Olympics honcho, and on and on. A life well-lived. What more is there to know?
Plenty. And at the heart of it is this: he put his life in the hands of God–consciously, deliberately, publicly–every day of his life. It was God who guided his every step, and he acknowledged it without shame or embarrassment. “His abiding ambition,” as one close observer summed up his life, “was to be a faithful son of God.”
The observer was his son Mark, the author of a new study of Shriver’s life called “A Good Man.” The title is an apt one, describing the accolades that came Shriver’s way when he died last year. But how much more there was to the man! Perhaps it takes someone as close to him as a son can be to spell it out, and maybe it comes across as a bit old-fashioned in a skeptical age. But this man of action, this dynamic proponent of better race relations, of harmony between peoples, of an end to poverty and the start of peace, began and ended each day with God. I can think of no higher praise.
Here is Sargent Shriver, for example, on his long marriage to Eunice Kennedy, whom he looked on as a gift from God: “You have meant and shall always mean more to me than any other human being. If I end up in heaven someday with our precious Lord and Savior, you my courageous and wise wife will be the single most important reason for my being there. Second only to our Lord himself, you will have saved my soul–by your intelligence, your example, your dedication to our Lord and to the Blessed Mother, by your faith and by your love.”
Even in his long twilight years, as he battled the Alzheimer’s disease that would ultimately claim another victory: “I’m doing the best I can with what God has given me.”
Mark Shriver’s book is filled with quotes like these. It’s been one of the most ballyhooed titles of the year, especially in the weeks just before Father’s Day. But I think that most of those who commented on it (most favorably, I might add) missed the depth of the spiritual dimension of “A Good Man.” Sargent Shriver comes across as one of the most intensely religious men, in public or private life, that I’ve ever read about. In that regard, at least, we could use a few more like him.
Here’s a closing quote that sums up all the joy, the fervor and the faith, that Shriver lived by. It’s from an address he gave at Yale, and he was 78 at the time. Although he was “blessed,” he said, by the opportunity to take part in some of the great peace-building efforts of the century, his “greatest happiness has been my wife and five children…None of them came to me as a result of my brains, my hard work or my education…They really came to me from God. I say from God because that’s the complete truth! To a political or solely secular audience, I’d say they came to me as a result of ‘good luck.’ But, truthfully, it hasn’t been luck. It’s been ‘love.’ God’s love is something no one earns. It’s just given.”