Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Good Man

To all you Dads out there: a very happy Father's Day!

   Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

Robert Sargent Shriver died last year 
at the age of 95.
A devout Catholic, 
he had led a very full and noteworthy life:
he graduated from Yale 
and volunteered for the US Navy;
he married into the powerful Kennedy family 
and had five children;
he ran for Vice President
and served as American ambassador to France;
he was the founding director of the Peace Corps
and helped his wife, Eunice, 
start the Special Olympics.

His son, Mark, recalls that when his dad died
it seemed like everybody knew him,
and it also seemed that everybody—
from politicians to priests to trash collectors—
had the very same thing to say: “He was a good man.”

Mark Shriver has just written a memoir about his dad
with the unsurprising title,
A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.
And in a recent interview about the book,
he takes the opportunity to reflect upon the difference
between being good and being great 
Great men and women, he says, because of their ambition
have lots of money, power, or prestige…
…but you probably wouldn’t want to have dinner 
or a drink with them.
They have accomplished remarkable things,
but they’re often not nice, and they don’t treat people right;
“when the lights are turned off and no one's paying attention,
they're not good."
Mark says that his father, on the other hand,
was as kind to the waitress at his favorite restaurant
and the guy at the airport ticket counter
as he was to presidents and cardinals and business executives.
Little wonder they all said the same: “He was a good man.”

Mark Shriver wrote his book because he wanted to figure out
just what was the secret to his father’s good life.
“What was the key to that life that he led?” he asks.
“That he was happily married for 56 years to the woman of his dreams,
that he raised five kids that all love him,
that he had countless friends.
He went to Mass on a daily basis,
yet he still did all of these great things,” Mark says.
“I think it really was his faith that gave him that foundation.”

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us two parables about seeds.
What a wise teacher Jesus is to use parables!
By teaching through such open-ended stories,
Jesus lets each of us apply them to our own lives,
and thus they remain just as vivid and relevant now
as when first spoken nearly 2,000 years ago.
So on this Father’s Day,
and in these final days leading up to graduation for the Class of 2012,
there is something to be learned from these parables of the seeds—
the scattered seeds that grow unseen to yield a rich harvest of grain;
the mustard seed which starts out so small a tiny bird can eat it,
but that has the potential to out forth large branches
in which many birds can make their home.  (cf. R. Bensen)

To all you dads: Be good men.
While your children and grandchildren may be rightly impressed
by the many great things you’re able to accomplish,
remember that it’s the small things you do, the good things,
that will matter most in the end.
Be good men, and be men of God.
Scatter seeds of faith in the hearts of your children—
something done best not with words alone,
or through show of brute strength,
but by your own good example.
Faith grows and sprouts in the Lord’s own time, we know not how.
But it needs to be cultivated and fertilized,
to be weeded and pruned.
Despite many impressions to the contrary,
religion is not “woman’s work.”
Your fatherhood, your goodness,
is meant to be a reflection of God’s own.
Whether you’re here in church or back at home,
off at work 
or casting into your favorite fishing hole,
in order for our Catholic faith 
to flourish and grow strong
in the hearts of generations to come,
we need your constant, courageous witness 
to that faith today.

And to our graduates:
You stand ready to turn the page 
on a new chapter in your lives.
There’s much excitement—
and a little fear, I’m sure—
about all that lies ahead.
Your minds are filled with dreams 
of doing great things.
Pursue those dreams!  Aim high!
But in your desire to do great and important things,
do not neglect to be good,
for to be good men and women
would be your greatest achievement of all.
Great people oftentimes forget their roots,
but good people stay in touch 
with their humble beginnings.
Allow the seeds of faith, the seeds of the kingdom,
which have already been sown within you—
no matter how small and insignificant they may now seem—
allow these seeds to sprout, to grow, and to ripen to harvest.
Keep close Christ and close to his Church,
wherever you go and whatever you do.
In that is the key to a good life,
for only God can take our littleness
and turn it into something both truly good and truly great.

As you might well imagine, 
in the high-powered Kennedy-Shriver family
there could be more pressure 
to be great than to be good.
“I think when you're surrounded by that culture,”
Mark recalled near the end of the interview,
“where you're trying to change the world,
or putting a man on the moon, 
or trying to defeat Communism,
for a kid that can be confusing 
because you can think,
'Wow, I've got to do something like that as well,'
and I definitely had those thoughts."
But by watching his father,
Mark Shriver learned that it’s often harder 
to be good than to be great.
"And that's what my dad did incredibly well,” he says,
balancing faith and family and friends
and doing something for the community.

You see, it’s not enough for any of us to strive for greatness.
God is calling us to something more—
God’s calling us to be good.
Lets each of us allow that small seed to grow.

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