Homily of Bishop Denis Brennan at Memorial Mass for Senator Ted Kennedy

29 Sep 2009

29 September 2009

Homily of Bishop Denis Brennan at Memorial Mass for Senator Ted Kennedy – St Michael’s Church, New Ross, Co. Wexford.

“…He lived out of his hopes and dreams, not out of his fears. His hopes and dreams were focused on the needs of the poor, social justice, healthcare, housing and the minimum wage, disability, refugees and peace, especially peace in Ireland.”


Much has been spoken and written about the man we are remembering today. His accomplishments, his failings, his family, his political career, the difference he made in the daily lives of so many people.

His son Teddy Jnr. speaking at his funeral Mass described him as ‘’a storyteller, practical joker, mountain-climber, skipper, pilot, rodeo rider, ski-jumper, dog-lover and all around adventurer.’’ He then paused and added ‘he was an Irishman.’

Ted’s famous remark about the Presidency makes it very easy to see the ‘Irish’ in him. He said  ‘’I don’t mind not being President………I just mind that someone else is!’’ There is something quintessentially Irish about that remark!

We here in Wexford wouldn’t be human if we did’nt have a special tinge of pride in the achievements of a man, and indeed a family, whose roots are here in our own county, but whose story is now part of the story of America.

The titles of the books written about Senator Kennedy are a measure of the stature and influence of the man; ‘The Last Lion’, ‘The Dream that never Died’  ‘Scenes from an Epic Life’

What I would like to do today is to reflect, not so much on what Senator Kennedy did, that’s a matter of record, but on why he did it.

In a sense it can be seen as the story of how one man used his God-given talents for the common good, and in the process, made a huge difference to many people’s lives.

What was the impulse that kept him going for almost half a century, in the rough and tumble of American public life?

Where did that impulse come from? He didn’t have to do it, he came from a privileged background, he could have chosen a much less stressful and leisurely way of life. But he chose to go the road of public service with all the risks and challenges that involved, especially for a Kennedy.

Two people touched our lives in a special way in the Ireland of the 1960s. One was President John F Kennedy who visited in 1963. I have always believed that his visit had a hugely positive effect on us as a people. I believe it gave us a sense of national pride and confidence which we needed at the time, and which I believe, we now need again. His election as President of the United States was a historic moment for Irish-America, it was also a defining moment here.

The other person who impacted hugely on us as a people in the 1960’s was Pope John XX111. He never visited Ireland but the warmth of his personality, and the hopes raised by The Second Vatican Council, which he called in 1962, touched us in a profound and lasting way.

Pope John used to say ‘’live out of your hopes and dreams, not out of your fears.’’

This, I believe, is what Senator Kennedy did all his life. This is the impulse that kept him going in the face of tragedy, failure and disappointment.

This is the impulse that sustained him in the dark aftermath of Dallas and Los Angeles.

He lived out of his hopes and dreams, not out of his fears. His hopes and dreams were focused on the needs of the poor, social justice, healthcare, housing and the minimum wage, disability, refugees and peace, especially peace in Ireland.

His involvement in the delicate choreography needed to construct the Good Friday Agreement was crucial.

‘Newsweek’ described him as “accomplishing more for the poor and dispossessed than any other Senator, ever.”’

The writer goes on to wonder what made Kennedy such a thoughtful person.

‘Perhaps,’ he said ‘it was learning to cope as the youngest son, mocked as “Muffins” by his high-powered siblings … Maybe it was the five months he spent immobilised in 1964 recuperating from a plane crash … Maybe it was his Catholic faith, deepened by tragedy and redemption.’

Whatever it was, his work for the poor and marginalised is firmly rooted in the Judeo/Christian scriptures.

It was the great Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos who linked the quality of faith to the character of justice in the land.

All his political life this is what Senator Kennedy tried to do. Just a few days before he died he wrote to President Obama, urging him to persevere in his campaign for universal healthcare, calling it ‘the great unfinished business of America.’

His work as a legislator and Senator resonates with our First Reading today from Isaiah ‘’the spirit of the Lord has been given to me, he has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,to bind up hearts that are broken,to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison, to comfort those who mourn.’’

Writing to a family of one of the victims of 9/11 the Senator said “we must go on, because we have to.”   

Coming from ‘the last brother’ this was a very personal word of encouragement to another family trying to come to terms with an unbearable loss.

‘Time’ magazine, in an article entitled ‘The Brother who Mattered Most’ described Ted Kennedy as “the man who found himself.”

The article goes on to say “nobody talks about Camelot any more. They struck the scenery long ago. Without Ted, the Kennedy legacy would be mostly beautiful afterglow, just mood music and high rhetoric.

More than any of his brothers he took the mythology and shaped it into something real and enduring.”

I chose the gospel reading today to reflect that reality, hope over hopelessness, and the ever present possibility of redemption.

The passage describes how another man found himself, it didn’t happen immediately or easily, but it did happen.

For a time he was in a “far country”, that can mean many things, the important thing is that he believed in redemption, and ultimately found it.

The priest who was with Ted Kennedy when he died, Fr Patrick Tarrant, made an interesting point afterwards. He said “the whole world knows a certain part of his life very well, but I think there is another part of his life that very few people know, and that is his deep faith.”

Fr Hession, the priest who preached his Funeral Homily in Boston concurred with this, he described how, when his daughter Kara was ill with cancer, the Senator called daily to the church to pray for her recovery.

In his autobiography ‘True Compass’ just published, Ted Kennedy acknowledges his failings “in my life” he writes “I have fallen short, but my faith has always brought me home.”

These words, written as Senator Kennedy drew near to the end of his life, are a frank confession of his human failings.

But they are also, and more importantly, a confident affirmation of his Catholic faith, a faith which has always brought him home.

May he now Rest in Eternal Peace.


Further information
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 087 233 7797