Thursday, January 20, 2011

Love as a Bold Act: Remembering Sargent Shriver

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:25-28

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. was a devout Christian. I don’t know whether or not he chose a “life verse” from scripture, but when I look at his life I see a connection to the “Great Commandment” to love God and neighbor. And he lived out of Jesus' promise, "Do this, and you will live."

As a young man Shriver was a member of the “America First” movement that opposed involvement in the “European War.” But he enlisted in the Navy before Pearl Harbor because he believed that it was his duty to serve his country, even if he disagreed with its policies. I don’t know what changed a young isolationist into a champion of international responsibility. But his lasting legacy is one of service to the highest ideals international peace and justice.

Sargent Shriver was the first Director of the Peace Corps, which began fifty years ago as one of the key initiatives of President Kennedy in his first months in office.

Writing in the New York Times, Bono tells of his friendship with Shriver, which began when he asked for Shriver’s help in promoting international efforts to help debtor nations. Shriver was immediately supportive and enthusiastic, and helped to network support across the country.

Bono explained Shriver’s dedication to peace and justice as an outgrowth of his faith. He writes, “He and his beautiful bride, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, would go to Mass every day — as much an act of rebellion against brutal modernity as it was an act of worship. Love, yes, but love as a brave act, a bold act, requiring toughness and sacrifice."

In Sargent Shriver, Bono saw a man whose faith was directly connected to action, and for whom one’s work for others was a sacred calling. Shriver believed that “For the Word to become flesh, we had to become the eyes, the ears, the hands of a just God.” In this way injustice could be overcome and justice could be established.

In an article in the Boston Globe, Mark Gearan, who was director of the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1999, and is now President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, wrote:

At the 20th anniversary of the Peace Corps, Shriver quoted Yale President Bartlett Giamatti’s 1981 commencement address: “What concerns me most today is the way . . . we have created thoughtful citizens who disdain politics and politicians when more than ever we need to value politics and what politicians do; when more than ever we need to recognize that the calling to public life is one of the highest callings a society can make.’’ It’s a point that should be made again today.

In a time when there is so much cynicism about government, it is good to remember the optimism of “Camelot.” In those years of rising expectations, there was more than a little turbulence and chaos, but it is good to remember that it was also a time of national and individual altruism. It was not really “Camelot.” It was far from perfect. Some of it was not even good. But there was for many of us a shared vision of what we could become as a nation. We dreamed great dreams for the greater good. And we even achieved some of them. Sargent Shriver was a crucial part of the dreaming and the achieving.

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