Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thoughts on Ted Kennedy's Papal Prayer Request

Today's Washington Post published in full a letter that Ted Kennedy had President Barack Obama hand-deliver to the Pope a month ago.

Upon reading it, I felt grieved for the late senator and his family given how it seems Kennedy did not grasp the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and embrace the mercy available for him at the cross.

The letter (excerpted in full below) was full of lots of "I"s and reference to his practice of the Catholic faith, but nothing about the grace of the Lord Jesus:

Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand-deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am so deeply grateful to him.

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God's blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during these challenging times. I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family. And both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.

I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator.

I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I'm committed to doing everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I'll continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.
Only God knows with certainty Ted Kennedy's present and permanent residence: in the presence of our merciful Savior or in the abandonment and unending torment in Hell.

What I do know is that one's life work or good works can never get Ted Kennedy, yours truly, or any of us to the former. The Bible tells us that "by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20)

The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, continued by noting that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and that those in Christ "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

Later Paul asked the Romans "what becomes of our boasting?" and answered that "It is excluded.... For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul explains that that faith itself is also a gift of God, so that no one may boast. And yet good works do result, as fruit of a changed life (Ephesians 2:1-10 emphasis mine):

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ted Kennedy admitted in his letter that he has his shortcomings, but then said that he's always "tried to be a faithful Catholic."

But God is not impressed by our vain efforts. He is pleased when we admit we are weak and that we desperately need Him to save us. As Paul wrote the Galatians:
[F]ar be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Religious ritual doesn't save. Good works don't save. Law-keeping doesn't save. Being a "good" man on balance doesn't save. It's clinging to Christ's cross that saves us from God's judgment and from the corruption endemic in our sinful flesh (Romans 7:21-25a):

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The book is closed on Ted Kennedy's life, and he has appeared before the judgment seat of Christ, as will all of us one day (Hebrews 9:27-28):

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
The question for us is whether we will appear before that throne trusting in Christ's mercy alone, or pointing to our good works in a vain attempt to curry God's favor.

My plea with you today is to cry out to Jesus to save you from His wrath and from your sins, so that one day you may join that great heavenly multitude praising the spotless Innocent who died to save ungodly sinners like me (Romans 5:6-8; Rev. 5:6-14]:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

[...]

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

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1 comments:

Leo B. VadalĂ  October 23, 2009 at 11:06 PM  

I remember several years ago reading that Senator Kennedy was good friends with Cal Thomas, who had apparently attempted to witness to him, or maybe that is just something I was hoping. I was hoping to see some sign of faith and repentance, because as much as I loathed his politics, I cannot wish on anyone having to meet their Maker with their sins unforgiven. Despite the lack of any sign that I could see, oh that God would have had mercy on his soul.

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