I expect, though, that beyond health care, and beyond the inevitable 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.Perhaps the most appropriate thing any of us can do right now is pray.
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.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.