A Letter of Hope But Not Courage

As the media mourns the death of Ted Kennedy, columnist after columnist will lay out the case for a great man of many accomplishments. Even his opponents will compliment his speeches, his charismatic ways, and his bipartisan efforts. I’ve always found these praises from political opponents peculiar. Why praise the technique of a big government crook and abortion supporter? Admiring his speeches and charisma is like admiring the way a bank robber shoots down a security guard. Would we similarly praise the accuracy of his shot or the quickness of the getaway car? Surely not.

Simply, good men do not admire the tact of criminals. Only disturbed D.C. types can admire someone pulling the wool over the public’s eyes better than he himself can do. But, was Kennedy a simple crook, a gutter punk scoundrel? No, I think that his humanity showed in his final days.

Take for example the letter that he had President Obama personally deliver to the pope in July. No one knows what the note said exactly, but it was said to be "personal." Though the media didn’t make a big deal of this, I thought this was ground-breaking stuff. Here we have one of the biggest proponents of abortion in the Senate on his death bed asking to have a personal note delivered to the pope.

I can’t say that the note for certain mentioned abortion or his Chappaquiddick incident, but what else could it have been about? It certainly wasn’t about the weather in Massachusetts. A friend of mine joked that perhaps it was a bulleted list of abortion’s positive aspects for one last stab at the Catholic Church. But, somehow, I doubt it. I think that many of us can imagine what our final letter to such an important holy person would be like. And were I a decades-long supporter of abortion on my death bed, it would be impossible to write the letter without considering my actions on the issue.

If this letter was ever read to the public, the political world would surely be shaken to its core. But politics aside, this one moment in his career shows Kennedy’s humanity. As proud as he might have been in the public arena, the personal Kennedy understood his faults. And at the end of the day, he turned to God and the Church for help — although his relationship with both was shaky to say the least.

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Though the tale of his final letter is touching, there is a less enlightened side of the story. For one thing, it shows how little Ted Kennedy really understood his faith. He dealt with so many important moral questions in the Senate but missed the entire point of Christianity altogether — personal savior through Jesus.

Think about it. What can a letter to the pope really do for your soul that can’t be done praying alone in your hospital bed? What could the pope’s prayers do in comparison to those of your loved ones, your neighborhood priest, and your parish? Absolutely, nothing.

Sadly, his letter follows a pattern in his life. Even in his last attempts at redemption, he tried to play the same cards up his sleeve for the last time. When his recklessness at Chappaquiddick resulted in the death of a young woman, he used his political connections to get himself out of trouble. Was he trying "save" himself with his connections one last time?

Perhaps, the letter is his final mistake. Instead of coming to God personally or making his own statement about his religious feelings, he used his influential friends to send a letter to the pope.

But, real Christians know the truth. When the time of your judgment comes, connections, wealth, and clout will not help you one bit. At the very least, Ted Kennedy was reaching out to God — trying to get closer. But if he really wanted to do the Lord’s work, he had the chance. Imagine had he said that abortion was wrong publicly before his death. He had such potential and such opportunity. But instead of being courageous, he sent an influential errand boy to bail him out. The only thing necessary for his salvation was in the hospital bed with him. We can only pray that he discovered this in his final hours.