On Sunday September 6, 2009, Rev Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that talk.
On August 25th, 2009 Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy died. There is a picture of him on the front of the program. He died of brain cancer, as you all probably know. He had been a Senator for forty-six connective years, which is an amazing amount of time. He is the third longest serving Senator in U.S. history.
He always was the voice for the left, for the liberal, for the progressive. He was responsible for much legislation through out his career and he coauthored around three hundred bills that became laws. He supported and rallied for hundreds more. If there is anybody that we can probably say, that we can agree on, fulfilled the special function of their life, we can say that Edward Kennedy fulfilled his special function. A Course In Miracles says this in today’s reading, “To each He gives a special function in salvation he alone can fill a part for only him. Nor is the plan complete until he finds his special function and fulfills the part assigned to him to make himself complete within a world where incompletion rules.” (Tx.Or.Ed.25.46) I believe that Ted Kennedy found his special function, certainly a part that only he could fill, and he did his best to fill it. I definitely want to honor his life for that.
I did a little research on the Kennedys in general and Ted Kennedy specifically, and I found it pretty fascinating. Some of the information I knew and some of the information I did not know. There were actually four Kennedy brothers. There was a Joe Jr. There was John Kennedy who was sometimes called Jack. There was Robert Kennedy who was sometimes called Bobby, and there was Edward Kennedy who we usually refer to as Ted.
This family was beset with so much tragedy, its hard to imagine, to fathom, the amount of tragedy this family had. In fact, three of those four sons all died very young. Joe Jr. died in 1944. He was only twenty-nine. He died during the war. He was a pilot, and he died in a airplane accident that was quite unique. The Allies were trying, in their own way, to do a something similar to what the Kamikaze Japanese pilots did which was fly a plane laden with explosives into a particular target. However the American version was that the pilots were to bale out of the plane before it hit the target and exploded. There would be other planes there to rescue those who had baled out. For some reason the plane that Joe Jr. was in detonated in the air ten minuets before it hit the target and Joe Jr. was killed in that accident.
Of course as you know John, who was the next eldest, became president in 1961 only to be shot and killed in Dallas about two years later in 1963. At that time Ted Kennedy was already a Senator in the United States Senate. The third brother, Bobby Kennedy, ran for the Presidency in 1968. He was trying to get the nomination over Hubert Humphrey. Bobby Kennedy had just won the 1968 California primary when he was shot and killed. Democrat Hubert Humphrey did win the nomination but lost the Presidency to Richard Nixon. At that time Ted Kennedy was still serving in the Senate. He was then only thirty six years old. Can you imagine loosing all three of your elder brothers by war tragedy and murder by the time that you’re thirty six?
Yet, Ted Kennedy just kept going on. He was a trooper. He was very grief stricken by all of these deaths, yet none of them ever stopped him from fulfilling his special function. I think that at this time, when we remember his life, we can truly use it as an inspiration. Regardless of all the things that we have to endure, we can still fulfill our special function.
Ted Kennedy gave the eulogy for his brother Robert and in it he quoted something that Robert had said. This eulogy with Bobbie’s words is quite frequently quoted and remembered as one of the most important things that Ted Kennedy ever spoke. He said, “My brother 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. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” Those were Ted’s word’s and a significant quotation from Bobby Kennedy that Ted Kennedy utilized it in his eulogy to his brother.
As I said, through all of these tragedies, Ted Kennedy continued to perform his special function. He entered the Senate in 1962. Think about where you were in 1962, I was 10 years old. Ted Kennedy entered the Senate at the age of thirty, that was the minimum age that you can be a Senator. You have to be at least thirty to be a U.S. Senator. When Ted Kennedy turned thirty he ran in a special election, and became a Senator from Massachusetts. He was reelected to the Senate eight times after that, so he ran for the Senate nine different times, and won every single election.
In 1980 he tried to become President of the United States. He had a unsuccessful bid for the Presidency and he lost the nomination to incumbent Jimmy Carter. It was quite a thing to take on an incumbent. Incumbents are almost guarantied their party’s nomination, but Ted Kennedy decided to take Jimmy Carter on for many political reasons. However, Jimmy Carter won the nomination but then lost the Presidency to Ronald Reagan who had one of the biggest landslide victories ever in the history of modern politics. It’s interesting to speculate what might have had happened if Ted Kennedy had won the nomination instead of Jimmy Carter.
Think of the courage that it must have taken to run for the Presidency knowing that two of your brothers had been killed, one as President and one as he was running for President. Its a demonstration of amazing courage to me. I also think about how, when he lost the nomination, he probably perceived that as a loss. However, there is a passage from A Course In Miracles that says, “... you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success.” (Tx.Or.Ed.18.41) Loosing the nomination might have been judged as a failure by Ted Kennedy. Let’s think about this. Presidents get four or eight years to make a difference, then they usually retire (with a nice lifetime salary), write books and give lectures, but they’re gone from political life for the most part. Had Ted Kennedy been elected President, maybe he would have had his eight years, but because he was not elected President he had forty-six years in the Senate authoring those three hundred laws and rallying behind so many more. He actually accomplished more by losing the Presidency then by winning the Presidency.
Ted Kennedy’s life was also filled with many hardships and scandals. The biggest scandal was the Chappaquiddick incident that happen in 1969. He had been Senator for seven years at that time. If you don’t remember, even if you do remember, he was driving home from a party that was on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. He was driving towards Martha’s Vineyard. Chappaquiddick is an actual island so its surrounded by water. He drove off a bridge on a very small road. He managed to escape, but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, didn’t escape and she died in the car by drowning. Kennedy said that he dove in and tried to rescue her several times, seven or eight times.
He went back to the party, which was about a mile and a half away from were the accident happened, got other people to come out to the site of the accident. They also dove into the water but were not able to retrieve her. The scandal was, of course, partly that he was involved in the accident and what was he doing with a woman in his car? Was it as really as innocent as everybody said? Was he really just driving her home because they wanted to go home early? However, the biggest scandal was that he didn’t report the accident to the police until the next morning, some ten hours later. That was the bigger scandal. How was it that this U.S. Senator did not report this fatal accident for ten hours? How could he leave the scene of an accident when someone had been injured then not report it immediately? This was a very bad scandal, in fact it probably lost him his bid for President in 1980. It was used against him during that time, but did that stop him? No, he still fought on in the Senate. He still won reelections to the U.S. Senate. He still fulfilled his special function. Even midst the worst possible scandal and tragedy that you can imagine, having someone die at your hand, he fought on.
He was frequently accused of having a drinking problem. He had probably been drinking the night of the Chappaquiddick incident which may have been the reason why he didn’t report the accident immediately. Some said he was too inebriated to report it, or that he didn’t want to report it until the alcohol had passed out of his system. Whether that is true or not nobody knows.
Other terrible things happened to Ted Kennedy. In June of 1964, again while a Senator from Massachusetts, he was in a small plane accident. The small plane he was in crashed on landing. Another passenger was killed; the pilot was killed. Kennedy was pulled from the wreckage. He had severe back injures. He had broken ribs and a punctured lung. He had internal bleeding. He was in the hospital recuperating for months. For the rest of his life he had chronic back pain. In January of the next year, with a cane in his hand, he walked back into the U.S. Senate and proceeded with his political agenda, passing many laws and bills.
He had more tragedies. In 1973 his son Ted Kennedy Jr. was diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg. His leg had to be amputated. Ted Kennedy Sr. had to deal with that family challenge.
Let me talk about some of the great legislation that Ted Kennedy passed. He passed the Voting Rights Act. That was a law that eliminated the pole tax. The pole tax was a tax that many states had. It was different from an income tax. It was a standard tax that every single individual had to pay. It was an equal amount for every citizen. This was actually considered discriminatory, because some people could not pay the pole tax, usually the poor the disenfranchised. Many African Americans in the south could not pay the pole tax and in those states you had to pay the pole tax to be able to vote. This tax eliminated that economic class from being able to take part in the democratic process. This was a big issue. Ted Kennedy was responsible for the bill the replied that.
He was also responsible for the Immigration and Nationality Act. That illuminated the quota system for people immigrating to the United States. Before that, there was a quota system. Only a certain number of people from each country could come into the United States in any one year. Ted Kennedy’s legislation was responsible for doing away with that. Though he didn’t write this next legislation, he was very in favor of, and crusaded and fought very hard for, the Civil Rights Act that was passed in 1964. This was considered the landmark bill for African American equality passed during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency. Lyndon Johnson is usually credited for that act, as he should be, but also Edward Kennedy had a lot to do with it.
Throughout his career he authored and passed many more legislations. The first major AIDS legislation, passed in 1988, which authorized a billion dollars for treatment, education and research was his bill. Two years later, in 1990, he authored and passed the Ryan White Care Act which assisted people with AIDS who lacked sufficient funds for health care. In his own statement, in 2002, he said he cast the most important vote of his career. He was one of only 23 Senators who voted against authorizing the Iraq war. You all probably know Barrack Obama had spoken out quite decidedly against the war. Hillary Clinton had voted for the Iraq war and that may have been responsible for her loosing the nomination. Obama ran strongly on the platform of being against the Iraq war.
As I said, and as you see from his record, he continued to fulfill his special function. A Course In Miracles says this is the Manual for Teachers. “This is a manual for the teachers of God. They are not perfect or they would not be here. Yet it is their mission to become perfect here, and so they teach perfection over and over in many, many ways until they have learned it.” (Mn.Or.Ed.1.5)
Ted Kennedy was that kind of imperfect man with all kinds of problems, but you don’t have to be perfect to be a teacher of God. That’s what A Course In Miracles tells us. We learn perfection here. We teach perfection over and over again until we have learned it. We don’t have to be perfect in order to do what God would have us do. Ted Kennedy was not a perfect man. He was an excessive drinker for most of his life. There were scandals about the womanizing he did, especially in his early years.
There was one other big scandal in his life. In 1991 he roused two of his nephews, who were sleeping, to go out drinking with him so they went out drinking. The two nephews picked up two women and brought them back to the home. One of the nephews, William Kennedy Smith, later, took one of the women outside and had sex with her. The women claimed she had been raped, but William Kennedy Smith said the sex was consensual. There was a big court case that was televised on national television. Ted Kennedy was called up to the witness stand. He had to testify what he knew about the incident. This was very humiliating for him and another huge scandal that he had to weather.
Yet, he continued to be elected to the Senate those nine times. He didn’t loose the most hotly contested race in 1994 when he ran against Republican Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney later became the Governor of Massachusetts and Romney also ran for the Republican nomination last year, so we see that he was popular. In spite it all Ted Kennedy kept going. He kept doing what was for him to do. Despite it all, he kept running for reelection and created an incredible legacy of legislation, laws and time in the U.S. Senate.
Shortly before he died he wrote a letter to the Pope and he asked President Obama, who was scheduled to see the Pope, to hand deliver his letter. This same letter was read at his memorial serves. I am going to read it to you now.
“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 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 a 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, 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’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, 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 been the focus of my work as a United States senator.
“I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do 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 care field and will 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. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”
What a wonderful letter he wrote to the Pope asking for help, asking for prayers, asking for courage perhaps. Ted Kennedy also wrote about keeping his faith, while still being a person with many imperfections. This is what truly inspired me about this man because I am certainly aware of my own flaws and, yes, I am well aware of the things that I am called to do – my special functions. A Course In Miracles tells us that only we can do that special part that is given us to do. Only we can reach the certain people who have been given us to reach. If we don’t do our part, that part does not get done by anybody else. Its waiting for us. However, there is a guarantee that we will eventually do our part . We can delay it but eventually we will all interact with the people that we are here to heal and interact with. We will all take our part in the atonement. The Course says, “Certain pupils have been assigned to each of God’s teachers, and they will begin to look for him as soon as he has answered the Call. They were chosen for him because the form of the universal curriculum that he will teach is best for them in view of their level of understanding. His pupils have been waiting for him, for his coming is certain.” (Mn.Or.Ed.2.1)
As we go about our lives, the next time we are challenged, I ask all of us to think about Ted Kennedy and use him as an inspiration. He was a man who indeed had many tragedies, many scandals, all kinds of pain, and his share of defeat. Yet still he fulfilled his special function, and we can certainly fulfill ours with all our trials and tribulations as well. Thank you. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the October 2009 (Vol. 23 No. 8) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.