Edward Moore Kennedy, 1932-2009
My baby-hood crush on John Kennedy, and my little-girl admiration for Robert Kennedy had kept Ted Kennedy on my periphery. I use this photo because it is the flashing image I always get when I think of Ted, because it was my first real notice of him.
I remember being 11 years old and watching Kennedy make a statement on television after the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. What seems vivid in my memory is something I am no longer sure of: was he wearing a neckbrace during that speech? Perhaps that was another time, or my memory is fouled up from all these years of news-watching.
I do recall his voice quivering as he suggested that his family seemed to be under some terrible curse. With the 1968 murder of RFK still fresh in our Catholic memories, and JFK’s death still a long-opened wound, my parents were moved by Kennedy’s tremors. I was moved. My mother who, I must admit, had a bit of a morbid streak about her, counted off the Kennedy tragedies, “Joe, killed in the war; Kathleen killed in an airplane; Rosemary institutionalized after a botched lobotomy….JFK assassinated…Bobby assassinated…what family can endure this? His mother is a woman of sorrows.”
Well, true that. The loss of one child is something a parent never gets over. Rose Kennedy lost 4 in their prime. And being married to Joe Kennedy could not have been a bed of roses, either.
Someone emailed me a moment ago wondering how long it would take for Kennedy’s death to be politicized – specifically by the left, specifically in order to push through the rapidly souring Obamacare, and “wouldn’t that be a dreadful and classless thing?”
The answers, at least on Twitter, are “immediately,” and “yes, dreadful and classless, but nothing less than Kennedy himself would have expected and participated in”; it is what politics has devolved to, after all. Even as he lay dying, the “Liberal Lion” was trying to finagle a means of protecting his Senate seat for his party. Or, someone was. And already on Twitter, the Obamacare proponents are insisting that Kennedy’s death will “give Obama the push he needs, to pass his plan.”
Well…maybe. But Kennedy’s death -outside of the coastal enclaves- will not have the drama and sentimental heft some might expect. Given a grim diagnosis in May of 2008, Kennedy managed, with the help of some of the best care available, to see another Christmas, another spring and even another summer. It’s entirely possible that what Kennedy’s death will really do is bring into stark relief the fact that under Obamacare, this overweight 77 year-old man with liking for the drink would probably have faced treatment rationing and an offer for “physician aid-in-dying”. Kennedy’s death will emphasize yet again that our elected “public servants” enjoy one of the best health insurance plans in the world, while they are trying to force something much less comprehensive (and life-affirming) onto their constituents.
I expect, though, that beyond health care, and beyond the inevitable revisions, hagiography and histrionics in the press (and the competition between the Clintons and the Obamas as to who can best-use this moment) Ted Kennedy’s death will do what every Kennedy death does: shine a spotlight on Catholicism, its rituals and rites and rubrics. There will be lots of people -both Catholic and non-Catholic- who will declare themselves “shocked and scandalized” that Kennedy would be given a Mass of Christian Burial. Some will declare that he should have been “thrown out of the church” a long time ago; others will insist that his Funeral Mass brings shame to us.
Some will focus on his personal sins -the assumed repentance or lack of same (of which they will likely have no real knowledge, just hunches) and some will presume to know the state of his soul, but those will be the inveterates, working from long-habit. Most Christians will, I think, understand that “the favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies not over and done” and will simply pray in hopes that Kennedy had made a contrite and humble confession of his failings and sins.
Others, of course, will suggest that Kennedy’s pro-abortion positions, in and of themselves, should damn him forever in the eyes of God.
Thankfully, God knows more, and sees more, than the rest of us, because eventually we’ll all need to count on his mercy, as we face his justice. For all that we know of Kennedy, there is much we do not know. A family member who works with the very poor once told me that when he was in a real fix and unable to find help for, for instance, a sick child in need of surgery, a phone call to Kennedy’s office would set the “Irish Mafia” of professional people -doctors, lawyers, pilots and such- into brisk motion. I think an examination of the life of every “great” person (and I mean “great” in terms of power and influence) will expose deep flaws and surprising episodes of generosity.
As I wrote here, “the quiet altruism of a public man is always overshadowed by the noise of his sins,” and, “Is it arrogance and entitlement that keeps a public man of public failings turning, and turning again, to the Mass, the sacraments, and the tribe, or is it a kind of humility, a declaration of need that supersedes riches and power and all the consolations of the world?”
So, upon hearing of his passing, I say “ah, he’s gone, then,” make a Sign of the Cross, and think of what C.S. Lewis wrote of Purgatory:
Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’
I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I movie downloads or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.
My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am ‘coming round’,’ a voice will say, ‘Rinse your mouth out with this.’ This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.”
What can one do when one is likely unfit for heaven, but possesses just enough charity and love to stave off hell? Let us suffer the purgation, then. I am certain that someday I, in all my sins, will end up there, too.
I feel badly for Caroline Kennedy, for whom Ted was a beloved father figure, and for his kids. Beyond that? One senses this was in some ways a tormented man -but then we are all, in some ways tormented. This article looks at Kennedy’s wish to end his days well. May he rest in peace.
Funny, it sort of feels like “an end” to 1969. Finally.
Afterthought: It is rather remarkable that Kennedy died just as Obama hit the Vineyard; a spectacular opportunity for Obama to, as president, re-dazzle some of the country as their attention is taken off his failing policies. I mentioned earlier that the Clintons and Obamas would be vying for beneficial airtime. Obama, being president (and the press’ darling) will benefit most as he “leads the nation” through it’s “mourning” is I guess how they’ll phrase it.
Legal Insurrection: Rush was Right. The insane logic that says “because of sentiment, this atrocious bill must now pass. Let’s add to this $14trillion dollar hole” Wow. That’s good governance!
Ed Morrissey: The Captain’s Usual Fair Fare
Abortion: Kennedy did not always support it
NY Times: Kennedy’s death raises issues of succession. I thought that question was settled by Kennedy himself a few years ago!
Michelle Malkin: De Profundis
James Pethokoukis: No Trillion Dollar Healthcare Tribute for Ted
Peggy Noonan: Recalls lines from Kennedy (from 2005) “the whole thing is going to fall apart.”
Instapundit: Reactions from Ireland
Boston Globe: Goes all-out in sloppy Irish sentiment
Jim Geraghty: We would never want to walk in his shoes
Brutally Honest: “God’s mercy on the man”
John J. Miller: a rock star for liberals
Althouse: Will Kennedy’s death justify a return to the “shut up and obey on Obamacare” tactic?
GOP Leaders: Mourn his passing
Jazz Shaw: Kennedy, good and bad
Kathryn J. Lopez: Remembers Sitting next to Kennedy
God: He left a comment here basically telling me I am loathsome, but since he did not leave a real email address, I deleted him. Rules are rules.
Ed Driscoll: a good roundup
Bookworm: Wasn’t going to comment but finds Democrat reactions demanding one
JWF (and many emails) ask: Will this be another Wellstone memorial?. Well, it won’t be now! They’ll guard against that, aided by Catholic ritual.
Kim Priestap: Wonders about Wellstoning Kennedy as well.
Kennedy Death Puts Dynasty in Doubt
Confederate Yankee: goes provocative. Very.
Deacon Greg: Who Can Have a Catholic Funeral
Nick Gillespie: The Good things Kennedy did
Causa Nostae Laetitiae: Writes of her gratitude to Kennedy, and it’s good.
Damian Thompson: His Opponents will miss him. No doubt.
Banned in Boston: No conservative perspectives in Beantown, today
Michael Kelly: An old piece on Kennedy, I’d put off reading it for a few days, myself
Roger L. Simon: Thinking of Kennedy via Europe
Baseball Crank: Kennedy the Warhorse
Catholic News Agency: A mixed Catholic Legacy
Klavan: Bye, Ted
Joe Carter: Kennedy’s thoughts on faith
Jonah Goldberg: RIP; WHO is politicizing this?
Discomfort:With the Adulation We are addicted to wretched excess.
Inside Catholic: Rose Kennedy on Faith, Mary and the Assassinations.
Pewsitter: Good Ted, Bad Ted
ProEcclesia: Who is politicizing?
Sr. Maureen Fiedler: He made me proud to be a Catholic. And some reactions to that
The American Catholic: A huge roundup of Catholic reaction, from right and left