100 years

Today, May 29, marks the 100th birthday of the late President John F. Kennedy. In my book, I wrote about my clear and fond memory of seeing President Kennedy as his motorcade drove by a block from our house in 1963 and of my memories of the weekend of the assassination in November of that year. While he was not perfect as a president, he inspired my generation and others before and after with hope and vision for our nation.

President Kennedy concluded his inaugural address with my favorite quotation of his: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own”. I love that quotation and have referred to it often during sermons and classes.

But, the sentence that preceded it is also instructive and fascinating.

President Kennedy preceded his statement about God’s work being our own by saying; “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth…”

That sentence is fascinating to me because as he took the oath of office, he was still facing the bigotry and suspicion of many citizens because he was a Roman Catholic. His statement therefore is critical. He doesn’t speak of the reward offered by “heaven” or an afterlife. He doesn’t speak of God’s judging of the people, he rather focuses on “good being its own reward” by insuring a good conscience and that our acts will be judged by how we affect this world.

I can’t comment on President Kennedy’s personal theology but his statement, if it was heard clearly, was a way of saying that though we need belief in God to guide us, our reward as human beings will be understood in very human terms in this world.

I personally believe that a religious faith can be a great asset for any human being and politicians are no exception. But, what a religious belief brings to any person is best reflected in how they live their lives not in any theological beliefs concerning ultimate redemption or judgment. In the end, personal conscience and the way the world is affected by what we believe are the most important products of any belief we hold.

May the memory of President Kennedy be for a blessing and may his words continue to inspire.

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