Personal Reflections on Ted Kennedy

What made Ted Kennedy so special? What made him value his role as a priest while at the same time never ever espousing clericalism? Ted had a heart that was filled with the compassion of Christ. Although totally ecumenical in his way of life and belief he did not have to search for new age solutions to find compassion. His way of seeing the world was formed by his religious tradition and his own family.

Ted once said that the saddest thing in the world was that people lived unpoetically. Poems for Ted were not just printed words dancing on the page. They were his way of perceiving himself and his world. He saw that the language of love so easily and often used by those in power, whether political or religious, was at times inadequate. It was the language of justice that was used by those who suffered from the abuse of power that had to be heard. He lived the experience that the language of love was not enough because such a language did not protect us from our failures to love; only the language of justice did that.

Ted made compassion deeply universal. It did not belong to any one compartment. It encompassed the whole of life. I believe this was where his truly ecumenical spirit came from. No religion was exclusive of another. In working with the heart he had created a framework of beauty from his own Christian tradition. The projection of truth and beauty came through the way that he treasured language and particularly poetry. Life for him was coming to terms with ambiguity. Institutions fail in this regard because they must needs work within categories. Ted never did this but he was able in a prophetic way to balance the role of institution and the deeper search for meaning. It was his charism of affirming others that allowed others to believe that there was a light at the end of tunnel.

Ted was unaffected by what he saw as unimportant. What he perceived as genuine he worked at with his whole heart. His real strength shone through when he was with the Aboriginal community, the dispossessed in our society and the ones who were always marginalised. He gave to them a sense of belonging. He saw that what makes a man or a woman is not a culture or a practical intelligence but an attitude in the face of what is ultimate. He had a sense of what was ultimate in his own life.

The language of God can often become a barrier. The god created by man can succumb to the god of ideology, of false belief, of escapism, of despair and of unfulfilled promises. Yet Ted never took the mystery out of God. He never allowed it become a barrier for love. God language was no problem for him. The kingdom of God was initiated from an ordinary scene in human life where God did not apparently feature at all. Ted walked the streets of Redfern, and listened to those who came to him with broken hearts, and those who were disenfranchised or homeless.

Ted was a profoundly sacramental man. His celebration of faith was not restricted to liturgical celebrations. His experience of a loving God took place in the world, in contact with people especially his Koori community. He demonstrated a creativity in the way he worked with liturgy. To attend his Eucharist was an act of grace. He brought a sense of inclusivity making all aware they were part of a community breaking bread and drinking the Cup.

Ted’s life was based on hope. He worked and lived in the oppressive situation of modern-day Redfern. He had defined his terms of reference. Holding to this meant there was little room for compromise. It was based on a belief that he lived out in his life as to what was real – the presence of the downtrodden, the oppressed, the marginalised and those cheated by systems of authority whether secular of ecclesiastical.

What did Ted see in the Redfern he was part of for 30 years? He saw racism, poverty, segregation and verbal and physical hostility toward those who were less fortunate. He saw the aimless young people with no opportunities for advancement. He was angry with the corruption that was so visible. He was always seeking a point of negotiation between two cultures.

Ted did not die in a hurry. In the months leading up to his death he faced the suffering of his own mortality. The priest, the poet, the thinker, the friend of the oppressed had become helpless himself. He had passed through the terrible night of the senses. Death had become a friend. Ted’s final lesson as his memory lives on is that everything can end well and with great promise. He has left us with a wonderful legacy. Thank you, Ted.

John Hill

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