"I suggest we commence the long, hard task -- where scholars are needed as much as saints -- of lifting ourselves from 'the pursuit of happiness' to an additional and new level of political thought and moral vigor: to 'the pursuit of holiness'... So it will take a thousand years for human beings to see 'the pursuit of holiness' as a practical, transforming personal, and societal possibility."
Sargent Shriver | South Bend, IN | March 17, 1979
Our Quote of the Week gives us insight into Sargent Shriver's vision of what was needed to transform society: our ability to commit our full selves -- the intellectual, the political, and the spiritual -- for the benefit of all.
This week, we marked the 108th anniversary of Sargent Shriver's birth. Shriver was born on November 9, 1915, in Westminster, Maryland. We remember him as a leader who used his intellect, his creativity, and his spirituality to tackle some of the most daunting challenges of the modern era.
The quote we have selected to mark the occasion of Sargent Shriver's birthday comes from his 1979 Address to the Assembly of the Laity Conference, a speech that highlights the philosophical and spiritual ideas that shaped his thinking and actions. It is a sweeping and fiery speech that points out the importance of morality and ethics when making decisions that affect human lives. Through Shriver's words we see he is at once devoted to his Christian ideals and yet insistent that our decision-making be rooted in a universal, secular endeavor: to support and strengthen all of humanity.
Shriver speaks about holiness in quite a bit of detail, referring to his own religion of Catholicism, and to the Bible. Ultimately, however, he concludes that holiness, when applied to people, transcends any individual religion and is very much about being in the world and caring for others:
"[Being] a holy people -- or for that matter, any people, means a concern for others, means just laws, means decent moral, ethical behavior; means fidelity, trustworthiness, and means caring about issues -- being concerned enough about public issues, about the life of the people -- to get involved, and to attempt to make a difference and build a community according to the 'Call of God.'"
Reading the entire speech, a portrait of Shriver emerges: as a practical idealist who was fueled by a progressive spirituality that allowed him to tackle issues from racism (with his civil rights work) to diplomacy (with the Peace Corps and as US Ambassador to France) to poverty (with the War on Poverty), injustice (poverty law) and more (with his work on denuclearization and at Special Olympics).
During his life, Sargent Shriver often reminded us that it was up to all of us to make the world a more just and peaceful place. As we remember him on the anniversary of his birth, let us heed his call to pursue "holiness" in a way that honors and protects others the people us.