Friday, August 28, 2009

Kennedys and the Pope

It was reported this morning that the Kennedy family has a tortured relationship with the Catholic Church in general, and now with the current Pope in particular. It's an interesting tale that you can read about here.

As a commentator and casual observer, all I can do is attempt to frame it in a gospel context. While God may forgive Ted Kennedy, and Senator Orrin Hatch may forgive his lifelong political adversary, it is clear from this story the official position of the Catholic Church and the Pope is silence.

Apparently during his recent trip to Rome, President Obama carried a personal letter from Kennedy to the Pope (contents undisclosed). After a lifetime of advancing liberal political positions including "pro-choice" rights to abortion, his divorce from Joan, the Chappaquiddick incident, where there was little doubt of his responsibility in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, his legendary womanizing, the public humiliation he caused the Catholics in opposition to stated Church dogma, and his numerous public intoxication incidents, it seems apparent from this report that his fate and his doom are sealed. Apparently, that all adds up and compounds into a lack of forgiveness from the "Holy Father." The Pope seems to have nothing to say that would offer any semblence of exoneration for this last son of the Joseph and Rose Kennedy clan.

For me at least it brings into sharp focus the unquenchable and expanding hope the gospel offers. Orrin Hatch, perhaps more than anyone else in Ted Kennedy's life, saw in this fatally flawed human being something worth saving. In the Catholic Church context, it is clear the best that can be offered Ted Kennedy is a heaven or hell scenario and not much else. Remaining silent on the matter shouts the Pope's position about which it is louder than any missive in response to Kennedy's final appeal could.

In the context of what we know from the inexhaustible doctrines of the Restoration, hope abounds. I have often wondered when people not of our faith go through the veil how that all plays out. For instance, consider this:

O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.
O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.
And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.
And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. . .
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2 Nephi 9:19-23; 41).

When we die, we all go through that gate -- every man, woman or child -- and Christ greets every one according to Jacob in this passage.

There is one other assurance about judgment we must ever keep in mind:

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts. (D&C 137:9).

Here's the thought that intrigues me as the world bids farewell to Ted Kennedy and the news outlets dispense lavish praise on the man they all call "The Lion of the Senate:"

What if Ted Kennedy gets enrolled with his Kennedy clansmen on the other side of the veil and attends a Sunday School class in the spirit world that's taught by, well, George Washington, Ben Franklin, or Abraham Lincoln, for instance? Better yet, what if Joseph Kennedy has already been in those clases, and is prepared to teach his son, Ted? What if Ted is able to look up and find that Joseph Smith character Orrin Hatch told him about, or that angel Moroni fellow who stands astride the Boston Temple? Wow, I'd love to be a fly on the wall of that Sunday School class! Even better -- what about all the Popes who have preceded the current Pope, who have all likely had a chance to sit in on those classes! Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Here's the story of why I believe the odds are pretty astounding that all those luminary people are now at least moving in the right direction of accepting membership in the true Church of Christ, and have been delivered from the church of the devil. By 1874, Elder Wilford W. Woodruff was involved in helping with the temple building in southern Utah, and in 1877 he became the president of the St. George Temple. Wilford Woodruff had an innate love of temples, temple worship, and the glorious doctrinal background that teaches us that our destiny is to have influence throughout the entire universe. He was a consummate diarist. Because of his pen and paper we know almost everything Joseph Smith taught during his lifetime. Every night after listening to Joseph, Wilford went home and wrote it all down. Amazing!

When Wilford Woodruff was president of the St. George Temple, he was visited one night by the spirits of those who had put their lives on the line to sign the Declaration of Independence. He said that they pled as a man pleading for his life, seeking the ordinances of the temple. Wilford wrote that they said, "We did not apostatize," an interesting choice of words, "from the form of government God gave us. But we have no earthly representative in the Church of Christ to bring us these ordinances. Please, you do them." (Journal of Discourses, 19:229; see also Dennis B. Horne, ed., An Apostle's Record: The Journals of Abraham H. Cannon [Clearfield, Utah: Gnolaum Books, 2004], 69).

Not only did he proceed on behalf of all those men, but also for most of the presidents of the United States, the Wesleys and other prominent religious figures, and at least seventy prominent women. I like to think all the great reformers and all the Popes are in line for those ordinances too! A daughter of Brigham Young served as proxy for the baptism of the women.

How did he feel in the baptismal font in St. George? He said that it seemed to him that the room was filled as with flaming fire.

Among the number of prominent persons who were given the ordinances that day was one of the great writers in British history, Lord Byron. Wilford Woodruff was well read; he even did some work in Greek and Latin and Hebrew; and he was cultured, in part because of his missions, but also because he kept track of world events in the process of record-keeping. Lord Byron had a stormy life, and before his marriage to his wife (to whom Wilford Woodruff sealed him), he was hardly an example of a great and good man. Not only that, but once they were married, so far as the records tell us, they had a tempestuous relationship and eventually separated.

Conclusion: If we take seriously the possibility that Elder Woodruff acted under inspiration in performing those ordinances, not just as guesswork, hoping that they might receive the ordinances, then we can take hope for others, because to receive those blessings Byron and his wife would have had to grow and come to deep understanding and become worthy.

Elder Woodruff later had "interviews" with George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and saw to it that they received further blessings. He wrote, "They were choice spirits, not wicked men." (Conference Report, April 1898, 89).

I would never presume to judge Ted Kennedy's life, but I can tell you this much: I like his chances for exoneration much better in the hands of the authorized elders of Israel who hold the true priesthood in the spirit world with whom he has no doubt already hooked up because of his friendship with Orrin Hatch, than I do his chances at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Pope who hold no authority in this life or the next.

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