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United States


Feeling Sorrow for the Kennedys

alec vanderboom

The news about Ted Kennedy's health has the D.C. beltway a buzz with political speculation, but my thoughts run into a deeper nature.

As the daughter of a Poly Sci Professor, I grew up with mythic Kennedy family. A poster of JFK on a Sail Boat with the word's "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do .. ." hangs in my parent's living room and a soft photograph of JFK Hugging Caroline Kennedy with the line "It's Okay to Dream" hung in my little brother's bedroom. More than a symbol of 1960s idealism, as a Protestant, the Kennedy's were my one insight into the Roman Catholic faith. I remember so clearly a photograph of Rose Kennedy praying the rosary in church after the murder of her son. I didn't know what the rosary was at the time. Yet I remember being impressed with her strong fingers gripping the tiny beads and the way her mantilla covered head bowed with a quiet resignation. I knew just from her body position that those "Mary prayers" were important. "There must be something to that rosary thing", I thought at the age of eight.

After my conversion to Catholicism, I hung onto the Kennedy's example as the political ground shifted beneath my feet. During the Democratic Convention in 2004, I found myself in Boston with a husband, a one year old and a huge pregnant belly in the house of a still single college friend who couldn't believe a former staunch Democrat was now avidly Pro-Life. I didn't yet know how to square my political beliefs with my newly found religion. I remember feeling shaken and stirred after yet another "look how much you've changed" discussion with my friend and turning on the News Coverage to see the reassurring sight of Ted Kennedy. "The Kennedy's are Catholics and Democrats. They've carefully studied the issues," I thought to myself. "There must be some loophole in the catecism that I don't know about yet." With that thought, I happily clicked off the remote, rubbed my enlarged tummy, and fell asleep."

"There must be some loophole," that thought fills me with chargin these days. There are no loopholes of course, as I spend my day desperately trying to throw off my many, many habits of venial sin (gossip, a quick temper, stubborness, impatience, just to name a few) in order to put on the new robe of Christ.

And some where along the way, the Kennedy's have gone from heros of the Roman Catholic faith to me, to people that need my prayers every day. I don't get "mad", I just feel sad. Because the sin of scandal is real. I was one of those "in transition" people who put off dealing with the political ramifications of the pro-life issue until the last weeks of the 2004 campaign. I wanted to believe that if John Kerry and Ted Kennedy thought that there was no conflict, then it didn't really exist. That doesn't excuse my behavior, it just highlights the extra burden of responsibility that Catholic leaders carry into the political arena.

That's the background for why I had such strong, sad feelings when I read this passage about RFK by his daughter Kerry Kennedy in the New York Times today:

"As an adult, I recognize that the lessons my father taught us children mirrored the beliefs he wanted the nation to embrace — that we must build a system of justice which enjoys the confidence of all sides; that peace is not something to pray for, but something everyone has the responsibility to create every day; "

That line "peace is not something to pray for" hurts my heart again. I pray the rosary everyday for Peace, just as Our Lady of Fatima asked us Catholics to do. And on days when the Iraq death toll continues to mount, sometimes it seems like prayer doesn't accomplish anything. Yet I know praying works. Peace is something beyond us humans. Peace isn't something we can create out of our own handiwork. Peace is a gift that we have to receive from the Holy Spirit. Peace is a conversion of the interior heart which then pours out into the world.

My only tangible proof that my prayers for peace are working may be too small for Kerry Kennedy's comfort. I only know that daily reception of the Eucharist and frequent recetation of the rosary has caused my quick temper to cool. Yesterday I handled the loss of electricity in our house for over twelve hours with grace and humor. I cooked dinner, washed the dishes, and cleaned the house in the dark. I entertained two anxious pre-schoolers. I nursed a fussy baby who had no milk to drink. I joked with my husband and cared for two elderly neighbors. Yesterday, our little corner of our apartment building was a haven of peace, even though the threat of Tornados loomed over us until 1 AM.

Prayer and Action for Peace and Social Justice isn't a either/or dichotomy, Ms. Kennedy. I pray so that I know what to do. I pray so that my actions contain great love. I pray so that the Holy Spirit will bless these puny, human size endeavors and turn them into great fruits for Jesus.

In Him, With Him, Through Him. May I do a better job of being a contemplative this week. My little town of D.C. is certainly in need of greater numbers of faithful laity.