As you all know by now, a great woman, and as good a friend as Ireland and Irish America ever had, has returned to her Beloved Father in Heaven.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver lived 88 good years on earth, and while there are scores of charitable and Godly works by which to remember her singular mortal life, her devotion to the mentally disabled and her founding of the Special Olympics — a seed that grew from a summer camp she ran into an Irish rose — are undoubtedly the most precious.
But there is little doubt that this seed was planted by God, who gave Eunice a very special gift: her sister, Rosemary.
Rosemary was born with a serious condition, which Eunice revealed in a 1962 article for the Saturday Evening Post. "Early in life, Rosemary was different," she wrote. "She was slower to crawl, slower to walk and speak. ... Rosemary was mentally retarded."
Rosemary underwent a lobotomy — a radical brain operation which quickly became discredited and usually illegal — when she was 23, although that was not made public in the article. She lived most of her life in an institution in Wisconsin, and died four years ago at 86.
I have spoken often about the world that we see, and the World that God sees. They are quite different.
Ours is a world more made by projection rather than perception, heavily influenced by the past yet dominated by future worries, real or not. Even as we thank God for the Gift of Eternal Life, and for His changeless and unchangeable Love, we still see a world of suffering, sickness, shame, sin, and death.
And of course, we see people like Rosemary Kennedy.
Our thoughts of her may be very caring and loving — as were her dear sister's and the larger Kennedy-Shriver family's — but many of us nonetheless "see" a "defective" person, one whose life is a lesser life, one that will likely never be as full of promise and possibilities as ours, one who is as dependent on others as a tiny baby is, one who "can only go so far."
We think, "Eighty-six years of life, and most of that in a mental institution," and almost shudder. Even though we are not thinking hateful thoughts and we are well-meaning and caring as we mull this life, we find ourselves thanking God that we, and nobody in our lives, are like her.
What does God see when He looks at Rosemary? Unlike ours, His Vision is perfect. God does not perceive -- He knows. That is why in Rosemary, He only sees one of His Beloved Children, made perfect in His Image, with an everlasting life. Nothing made perfect by God can ever suffer any real loss, any real deterioration or demise, or any death. When we see these things, we are seeing incorrectly — no matter how "real" it seems. There cannot be two realities. There is only One Reality, and It is God's Creation. And It shares His Own Perfection and Immortality.
That is why one of the most-important prayers we can ever say is, "God, let me see as You do."
As He shares everything with us, God shared His Loving Knowledge of Rosemary with her sister Eunice. Extending His Unstoppable Love through Rosemary and into Eunice's heart and soul, she suddenly "knew" that Rosemary was no lesser Creation of God — but a special Gift of God to be nurtured and treasured.
Thus began her life's work, which we honor today.
Always remember Rosemary. Think of her when you visit a parent or loved one "suffering" from dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Think of her when you "see" the poor and the sick, the addicted and the imprisoned, the homeless and the sick of heart and mind.
Then, ask to see this as God Sees it. Let His Holy Spirit transform your "vision" into God's Reality — even if it is just a glimmer of What Truly Is.
I can tell you what you will see looking back at you from that hospital bed or homeless shelter: God's Own Eyes of Love.
God bless you all! Requiescat in pace, Rosemary and Eunice.
— Father Tim
Father Tim is a Jesuit missionary, trained in New York and Boston, who writes about the spiritual side of life. An Irish-American, he loves hearing from readers – not about theological arguments, but real-life issues that matter to you. He’s a friend you can trust, and you will always be in his prayers. You can read his blog here.