The Beatitudes & Sargent Shriver

Deacon Greg Kandra has had a very impressive career; as a writer and producer with CBS News, he won Peabody Awards and Emmy Awards, and Writer’s Guild Awards – and then he went to the Diocese of Brooklyn and helped establish Currents, the first daily Catholic news broadcast in the country, at New Evangelization Television. He has a gift for zeroing in on the human center of a story, and extending it in a way that brings all the peripheral loose ends together into a cohesive and marvelous whole.

That gift is never shown to better advantage than when he is in the pulpit, preaching. His homily this week manages to bring together the (for many, including me) challenge of the beatitudes taught by Jesus, and the fleshed-out human articulation of the same, within the life of the late Sargent Shriver:

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.

I’ve teased you with a bigger excerpt than I had planned. But you should go read the rest!

Related: Pat Gohn’s take on the Beatitudes

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • zmama

    I had read an interview a couple years ago of Maria Shriver discussing her father’s dementia and I could relate to so much of what she shared.When my dad stayed with us a few summers ago, when he could still walk and talk, we would bring him to Sunday Mass. He would recite the Our Father as loud as he used to and I would tease him by telling him “Dad, you don’t know me but you still know the Our Father.” A year later when he was hospitalized just before moving from assisted living to skilled care, my mom and I asked for a priest to come by. Dad had gotten dehydrated and had not spoken to us while we were visiting him. The priest arrived and said “Bill, we’re going to pray for you” and Dad sat up taller and looked him in the eye and said “Oh, alright.” My mom and I were amazed at how he knew just what the priest meant. Dad and Mom had also been daily communicants before his dementia got worse and they had also been very involved in pro-life work for many years. When I heard of Sargent Shriver’s passing I immediately thought of my dad. I also thought of the Shriver family and although our two families are from different socioeconomic and political backgrounds our journeys with a loved one with dementia have their similarities.

  • Hantchu

    Nice to see that at least one of the “Kennedy clan” was normal. No wonder they never pushed his election for anything. And he never had to sell his soul to anybody.

  • Ds0490

    “To establish justice and to promote the general welfare, America does not need the abortion license. What America needs are policies that responsibly protect and advance the interest of mothers and their children, both before and after birth.”

    Wise words indeed.

  • Marc Cardaronella

    “None of this is to say that Sargent Shriver was a saint. But at a time when people are willing to compromise…Sargent Shriver didn’t.”

    That says a lot! A very unique man.

    Thanks for the post!