Teddy Kennedy was memorialized at a solemn funeral Mass on Saturday in Boston in a service reminiscent of the way Kennedy spent his days on Earth: bringing together disparate elements of the America's political and social worlds, flummoxing his foes and inspiring his more numerous admirers – and, albeit through surrogates this time, tirelessly working the room on behalf of his latest legislative project.
This was a "Catholic" event in both the uppercase and lowercase sense of the word--a grand religious ritual that matched or exceeded anything even in the storied history of the Boston church, and a "catholic," or universal, display of the values Kennedy embodied and the breadth of his vision and influence.
Thousands stood in the pouring rain to watch Kennedy's funeral hearse pass by, the kind of sight reminiscent of the passing of FDR, or Martin Luther King Jr., or one of Kennedy's older brothers. And inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the city's poor Mission district, tenor Placido Domingo sang the Panis Angelicus at Communion while the actor Jack Nicholson sat reverently amid the throng of mourners that filled the church to capacity. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played and Kennedy's children delivered eulogies featuring stories as warm and humorous as they were emotionally wrenching.
"I don't mind not being president, I just mind that someone else is," Ted Kennedy, Jr., quoted his father as saying in one of many tales that provoked laughter from the throng of 1,500 in the huge church, which was hot and humid, closed off from the outside by heavy security but still damp from the heavy rains that continued to fall outside.
Kennedy also told the story of losing his leg to bone cancer as a 12-year-old, and his father bringing out a sled a few months later during a snowfall for a jolting ride down an ice-slickened driveway. The younger Kennedy's voice started to crack as he recalled being unable to walk back up the hill with his new artificial leg, and plainitively telling his father he couldn't do it.
His father would have none of it. "There is nothing that you can't do, we are going to climb that hill together if it takes us all day," he quoted his father as telling him.
But above all the confluence of opposites meant the funeral was, like Kennedy's life, an inextricable mix of faith and politics, from the presence of 58 current senators from both sides to the aisle (not quite enough to end a filibuster, but still not bad) as well as 21 former senators and three former presidents (the elder George Bush could not attend), led by the current occupant of the Oval Office, Barack Obama, whose poignant eulogy seemed to claim Kennedy's mantle as his own.
President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy at the funeral of former Sen. Edward Kennedy Saturday. "Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections," Obama said. "It was to give a voice to those who were not heard, to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity, to make real the dream of our founding."
Alex Brandon, AP
Alex Brandon, AP
So many of the congregants were, in life, Kennedy's political rivals or foes. Yet any past reservations were rendered mute (if not moot) out of respect for his memory, or just as likely, out of appreciation for their longstanding work -- and friendship -- with the liberal lion of the past generation. As Kennedy's son, Teddy Jr., said of his father in one of the eulogies that drew as many laughs as tears, "He even taught me some of life's harder lessons: such as how to like Republicans." Before the mass, John McCain was conferring in the pews with Chris Dodd, while California's Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was there with his wife, Maria Shriver, a Kennedy niece.
Catholic conservatives who saw in Kennedy's liberal politics, and particularly his pro-choice legacy, a betrayal of the faith were stymied at every turn. They lobbied unsuccessfully, if "furiously," in the words of one priest familiar with the arrangements, to have Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley stay away from the funeral, or to have the mass held in private, but without success. And the presence of Barack Obama, playing a central role in such a sacred and high profile Catholic event, was yet another tweak to the Catholic right, which is still fuming over Obama's appearance at Notre Dame's commencement in May.
Still, the Mass represented the kind of compromise Kennedy might have sought on the Senate floor: The service was held, at his request, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as the Mission Church, rather than the city's cathedral, which is O'Malley's own pulpit. The principal celebrant was Father J. Donald Monan, a Jesuit priest and former president of Boston College and a Kennedy confidante for decades. Church sources said Kennedy specifically requested these arrangements in part to take some of the pressure off O'Malley and the archdiocese. Having a Jesuit preside in the Mission Church, which is run by the Redemptorist order, removed O'Malley a few welcome degrees from the hot spotlight.
Moreover, almost everything about the service was a kind of sacred imprimatur to all that that Kennedy achieved politically, and a spur to those he left behind to fulfill the dreams he left unfinished. Although "Kennedy" and "Catholic" were often uttered in the same sentence, Ted Kennedy, like many of his clan, was "zealously private" about his personal devotion, as Father Monan said in his opening remarks at the invocation. Yet Kennedy's sendoff did more to peel back the veil on that devotion, and to yoke it to the causes that he and his family labored for.
"It is perhaps here in the quiet of this sacred space that we can best recognize that the two lives, public and private, were in fact one," Monan said. "It was the private life that informed the public service."
This was the sanctuary where Kennedy came to pray as his daughter Kara faced lung cancer. "This church was the place of private prayer for a very public man," Father Mark R. Hession, the Kennedy's parish priest from Cape Cod, said in a long and glowing homily that was an explicit rebuke to those who said Kennedy was something less than a good Catholic.
The Mission Church also sits in one of the city's most distressed neighborhoods -- the kind of place in America that Kennedy sought to help – something that Hession noted in his homily when he said that Kennedy's "choice of this church for his funeral mass resonates with the meaning of his public life."
Hession's sermon, and indeed all of the remembrances, did not seek to canonize Kennedy as much as his public agenda. "My father was not perfect, but he believed in redemption," said Ted Jr. "Although it hasn't been easy at times to live with this name, I have never been more proud of it than I am today."
Hession spoke of the "inevitable gap of what we are called to and what we achieve" as part of our shared, human condition. And he recalled Ted Kennedy's own words at his brother Bobby's funeral in 1968, that he "need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
Like several other speakers, Hession repeatedly tied Kennedy's faith to his politics. It was a paean to Kennedy's commitment to the Gospel injunctions on behalf of the poor and the hungry, the despised and marginalized, that are often buried in American religious discourse under the battles over sex and politics. The Gospel passage that gave focus to the mass was from Matthew 25, a chapter featuring Christ's most prophetic words about how his followers should care for the poor -- indeed, how such consideration is a prerequisite for salvation.
The intercessory prayers, read by many of the younger Kennedy, sounded like planks of a platform Ted would have written, and in fact most of the prayers quoted Kennedy's own words.
The first called for "decent quality health care as a fundamental right," with others beseeching God for better housing for the poor and greater care for "all those left out or left behind." Each prayer was punctuated with the invocation, "We pray to the Lord," and answered by the congregation, "Lord, hear our prayer."
President Obama delivered the final eulogy, at the end of the Mass, with a stirring address that also cemented the bonds between Kennedy's faith and works – and which seemed to take Kennedy's causes and approach to public life as his own. On this day, perhaps, Kennedy wouldn't have minded so much that someone else was president. Obama, whom Teddy supported so passionately during the 2008 campaign, compared Kennedy to Tennyson's "Happy Warrior" and in such dogged, merry perseverance -- a recurring motif of the day – the president could have been talking about his own aspirations.
"We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened, fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care or workers' rights or civil rights," Obama told the gathering. "And yet, while his causes became deeply personal, his disagreements never did. While he was seen by his fiercest critics as a partisan lightning rod, that is not the prism through which Ted Kennedy saw the world, nor was it the prism through which his colleagues saw him. He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect – a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots."
"We cannot know for certain how long we have here," Obama continued. "We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know God's plan for us. What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we can know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of other human beings. This is how Ted Kennedy lived. This is his legacy."
The even-keeled Obama struggled at times to keep his emotions in check. And after more than two somber and celebratory hours, the funeral finally concluded.
Later in the day, after the coffin was taken to Washington, Kennedy is to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his brothers Jack and Bobby, both felled by assassins bullets before they could fulfill the dream Ted Kennedy tried to live out. Washington's retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is to preside at the interment, which put an end to the day's solemnity, and to criticism about Kennedy's Catholicism.
But this was in many ways only the beginning. The Congress he loved comes back into session next week, and it was clear that Kennedy's camp will be inspired by his memory, with the political dynamic shifting quickly.
In his eulogy, Edward Kennedy Jr. seemed to direct his father's words at the Republicans arrayed before him in the Mission Church. "Teddy, he told me, Republicans love this country as much as we do," Kennedy's namesake said, quoting his father. "Always be ready to compromise," he said, continuing to remember his father's words. "But never compromise your principles."
Sen. Ted Kennedy has died at age 77. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," his family said in a statement Wednesday. Click for more photos taking a look back at Kennedy's life.
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