Some decades ago, I witnessed an expression of pastoral tenderness that remains with me to this day.
The mother of a dear friend died suddenly – at a very young age. They had been a family of three, émigrés from Moscow, and the funeral took place at a Russian Orthodox church in a New Jersey setting so rural and thick with surrounding forest, it must have felt a bit like home.
Beside the grave, with only three of us standing there, the priest who was warm, present, and large enough to have made a career wrestling bears, addressed my friend’s abject grief. Turning squarely to face her, he took her hands in his and declared with exquisite gentleness, “In your life, be a beautiful monument to your mother.”
This past weekend, the world surrendered one of the giants of our era. On January 18, 2011, Robert Sargent Shriver commended himself to God, assisted in this last exercise of faith by his children.
There have been some touching tributes written by those who knew and loved him. Although I never had the privilege of meeting the man I have been more fortunate in the case of one of those children.
I met Tim Shriver at the wake of a mutual friend, the great Thomas King, SJ. It was the same summer the Shrivers suffered the deaths of mother Eunice and uncle Ted. At the time, I was preparing to begin work on a short documentary film, commissioned by First Things, on the subject of the Nicene Creed.
Knowing something of Tim’s background – including his taking the time to earn a Master’s degree in theology at Catholic University – I asked if he might consider enduring an on-camera interview for the project.
With genteel but candid deference, he suggested it probably wouldn’t be a good fit. Days later, he called; admittedly surprised to find himself suddenly enthused about participating.
The film is now finished and will be made available to the public in a matter of days. It is blessed by the contributions of some remarkable individuals – scholars and thinkers whose insights are the fruit of life-long study, prayer, struggle and love. Each was chosen for the perspective they could uniquely bring to the consideration of the subject.
Tim Shriver shines as he speaks honestly, thoughtfully and incisively about the Creed – not least when identifying what specifically in it has challenged and strengthened him in moments of wrenching loss.
I am profoundly grateful to all who agreed to take the time to contribute to this project. I acknowledge Tim now because of this recent event – another difficult moment for him and his family.
I’m also grateful to have experienced once more that it is Christ, the head and heart of the Church, his mystical body, who alone is able truly to bring together those in that body who may differ on issues of civic policy and course; reminding us that we all drink from the same Paschal cup of forgiveness and salvation.
As husband and wife, Robert Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver nurtured a family of faith. From it they strove to incarnate the Gospel in concrete ways while remaining faithful to the deepest priorities of the Church they loved.
I do apologize for singling out but one of the Shriver siblings. But, Tim is the only one I know. And in him, mother and father, indeed, have a beautiful monument.
May their memories be eternal.