Homily for January 30, 2011: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friend Pat McNamara tells a story about being at St. Patrick’s Cathedral about 12 years ago.  It was the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, and they had this large portrait of her hanging to one side, over a side altar.  After mass, as Pat was getting ready to leave, he noticed an elderly man praying very fervently before the picture.  He was distinguished looking, with a shock of white hair.  Pat thought he looked familiar, but couldn’t place him.  It wasn’t until later that he realized who it was.

It was Sargent Shriver.

I’m afraid a lot of people today don’t realize the impact Sargent Shriver had – or what his significance was to a certain moment in American history.  When he died two weeks ago, at the age of 95, after struggling nearly a decade with Alzheimer’s, the obituaries lauded his public work, his marriage to John Kennedy’s sister, and mentioned his famous daughter, Maria, and son-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Shriver was seen as one of the last connections to the era of Camelot.  But the sum of his parts was so much greater than that.

If you want to know how much greater, just read through the Beatitudes that we just heard in Matthew’s gospel.  Here we have a succinct job description of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  More than any other public figure I can think of, Sargent Shriver embodied those ideals – with joy, with idealism, with faith.  And he did it without sacrificing his Catholic identity.  He and his wife Eunice attended mass every day.  He was his faith, and his faith was him.  It was so deeply ingrained in him that his daughter Maria said, of her father’s debilitating dementia: “He could pray the rosary perfectly.   But he couldn’t remember who I was.”

Well, the world should remember who Sargent Shriver was.

The gospel tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Shriver was the founding director of the Peace Corps – nothing less, really, than a secular missionary society, with a mission of encouraging dialogue among nations and helping the poor in developing parts of the world.  As recently as 1994, Sargent Shriver called on graduates at Yale, his alma mater, to be makers of peace.   “You’ll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior,” he told them, adding “I’ve been both, and I know from experience.”

The gospel also tells us:  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

He was a champion of racial justice – and devoted his time and considerable resources to helping the weak, the vulnerable, the outcast.   He offered mercy to those who needed it most.  He helped set up and run the Special Olympics, which gave dignity and honor to those with mental disabilities.

The gospel tells us: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Like so many members of the Kennedy family, Sargent Shriver mourned again and again and again – private grief expressed so often at public funerals.

And the gospel assures us: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

When being pro-life became unfashionable in his own political party, Sargent Shriver continued to speak out against abortion, and stood his ground.   When he ran for vice president with George McGovern in 1972, he was the last pro-life Democratic candidate on a presidential ticket – at least, the last so far.  His stance may have ended his political career.  But it was a price he was willing to pay.  He would not compromise his ideals, or his Catholic faith.

None of this is to say that Sargent Shriver was a saint.  But at a time when people are willing to compromise, to bend to political expediency, to dwell in what the pope has called “moral relativism,” Sargent Shriver didn’t.  He stood for something.  And he strove to make the world just a little bit better than it was – to make it more merciful, more compassionate, more just, more peaceful.

That’s the great message of the Beatitudes.  And, in a nutshell, that is what it means to be a Christian.

There’s something else worth noting about this gospel.  Last week, you’ll remember, Jesus went in search of disciples in the villages and along the seashore.  And it was out there, in the wider world, where he worked his miracles, and taught his followers.  And so it is here.  This famous passage takes place, not in a temple or synagogue, but on a mountaintop – out in the world.  We will discover again and again that THAT is where Christ’s great work was accomplished.

And so it was with Sargent Shriver.  For all his devotion, his daily attendance at mass, he knew that the  work of Christianity unfolds out in the world.  The man who prayed so fervently at St. Patrick’s Cathedral lived his faith outside the cathedral doors – in the corridors of power, on campaign buses, traveling the world for the cause of peace.

And that too should stand as a powerful reminder.

All the beautiful words about being “blessed” will mean nothing if we do not live them, moment by moment, day by day, in the work we do, in the encounters we have, in the choices we make.

That is our call.

Sargent Shriver understood that, and lived that.

Do we?

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11 responses to “Homily for January 30, 2011: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time”

  1. And how many Presidential candidates did he publicly-oppose from 1976-2008 because they were pro-abortion?

    Zero, that’s how many.

    He had an obligation as a public figure to speak out, not simply to remain personally convicted that killing children is an abomination. If we’re praising public people for just doing that, we’ve set the bar pretty low, indeed.

  2. Wow. What was that about “blessed are the merciful, they shall be shown mercy?”

    Shriver was publicly prolife when it was deeply unpopular to be prolife. When he retired from public life, he had no more obligation to speak out or to support anyone. And he was dealing with alzheimer’s for the last decade of his life.

    How much mercy do you show him, for daring to retire and live his private life as privately as he was entitled to? Zero, that’s how much.

  3. Great homily.
    He certainty lived the Beatitudes and was a positive model
    for our faith. The website “sargentshriver.org” has more on
    his life including some inspiring reflections from the services.

  4. I feel very inadequate to dare a defense of the pro-life credentials of Sargent Shriver. But here goes….

    I am reminded of the July 1992 New York time full-page ad, titled “The New American Compact,” which he and his wife, Eunice signed. The ad denounced abortion as a reversal of American ideal liberty and justice for all.

    There are many ways of being pro-life. There are even “pro-life Democrats, (yes, as there are pro-choice Republicans)! Such people work to change hearts and minds in ways that are not publicized but can have long-term influence.

    I would have preferred that your antagonism were directed toward the pro-life contingent, who use “in your face” tactics and employ mean and downright vicious words and tactics. They do more damage to the pro-life cause than we may think.

    (Fabulous homily, Deacon Greg. Maybe I’ll just skip the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday. By the way, I remember being told years ago, when the Mass was divided into the Mass of the Catechumans and The Mass of the Faithful, that I fulfilled my Sunday “obligation” if I attended the Offertory, Consecration and Communion.)

  5. Wow Dcn. Greg, I sure wish all of the power-elite who were at the funeral could have heard your homily (not to relegate what was said, of which I have no idea). It sure makes difference in understanding when we can relate it to a person and his good deeds as you have so beautifuly done.

    I really loved the Shrivers. May God grant eternal rest to both Sarge and Eunice.

    Joe thanks for the link, was looking for some footage of the funeral!

  6. Ryan Ellis: “He had an obligation as a public figure to speak out, not simply to remain personally convicted that killing children is an abomination. If we’re praising public people for just doing that, we’ve set the bar pretty low, indeed.”

    Well, let’s see. Mr. Shriver fought in WWII, receiving the Purple Heart in defense of freedoms we enjoy today. He founded the following organizations: Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents, Legal Services, the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, Indian and Migrant Opportunities and Neighborhood Health Services, and of course the Peace Corps. He also served as head of the Special Olympics.

    Mr. Ellis, would you care to offer up your own resume to give us an idea of what you have done to better your fellow human? Perhaps then we can better understand what you have done with your life that was different or impacted more people than that of Mr. Shriver.

  7. @hlvanburen: for one thing, i don’t create government programs to steal money from families and small businesses to enrich unionized government bureaucrats. that’s what most of those programs do. in fact, i fight every day for lower taxes, less government, and more freedom. you are obviously some sort of naive social justice baby boomer catholic, so i will simply wait for your generation to leave the scene. the rest of us will be orthodox and wipe the dribble from your chins out of authentic charity.

    secondly, you are not answering the objection: didn’t shriver have an opportunity (and an obligation) to speak out against pro-abortion candidates in his party, and why didn’t he? shouldn’t we expect that of people we are praising unqualifyingly? i’ve read nothing but praise of this man, but it seems totally over the top to me.

  8. hlvan & ryan ellis…

    Go to your corners and stop provoking each other, or I’ll kick you both off the blog.

    Read the guidelines for commenting, and please post any disagreement with respect and charity.

    Thank you.

    Dcn. G.

  9. You are absolutely right, Deacon. Sargent and Eunice Shriver showed us how to live out the Beatitudes. With faith and love they served God and His people touching the lives of millions of people around the world. Thanks be to God for Sarge and Eunice.

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