The Beatitudes & Sargent Shriver

The Beatitudes & Sargent Shriver January 29, 2011

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

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