"Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss" from Psalm 85 epitomizes for me the life of Robert Sargent Shriver Jr.
Peace, as the founding director of the Peace Corps. Justice, when his son-in-law, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed into law the historic justice-expanding Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act, establishing and pilot-funding the civil right to counsel for domestic violence, child custody, elder abuse and housing claims.
President Clinton awarded Shriver our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1994. I met him a year later.
It was his 80th birthday at his Potomac, Md., home, where a benefit was being held for his youngest son Anthony's global nonprofit, Best Buddies, which matches middle, high school and college students with mentally challenged young men and women the same age, blessing both with the gift of learning from each other. I had written a cover story about Best Buddies' startup for Chicago Life magazine and later interviewed Anthony on my call-in radio talk shows in Seattle and Washington, D.C.
My father had died a few years earlier in a tragic accident, and that evening Ambassador Shriver and I talked about many things, since I didn't have a father of my own to talk with about these things anymore. He was a pro-life Democrat, and as a Roman Catholic, too, that meant a lot to me. He wasn't a "cafeteria Catholic," picking and choosing what to follow, the rest to discard, in sharp contrast with so many others in public life.
What struck me most when we talked was when he offered that he attended Mass every day. For such a busy man with so many responsibilities, I silently wondered, "How can that be? How could he find the time?" Then he added that he went to Mass every day "because I am so weak." I didn't understand what he meant at the time.
Much later in my life, while reading St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, what he said finally made sense to me. For St. Paul wrote: "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10 A stronger man, a greater man, dare I say, a saintlier man, other than my own dear father -- a NASA rocket scientist -- I have yet to meet.
Would that Sargent Shriver's legacy be that the work of his life go on through the work of others whose lives he touched and those he had yet to meet. His peace work begun in the Kennedy administration after serving in the Navy in World War II; his helping President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty; his helping to desegregate Chicago's public schools as board president; helping his wife, Eunice, with Special Olympics; working to preserve the sanctity of life whether it be the elderly, those with disabilities or those not yet born; and of course, simply loving one another.
Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss Robert Sargent Shriver Jr.
Originally published in the Rockford Register Star.