I have been listening to and reading some of the various tributes to Tim Russert, the NBC journalist, host of Meet the Press and chief of NBC's Washington bureau. Clearly this was a man who, as New York Times put it, was both feared and loved. Respected for his journalistic toughness and because of his person.
To me, he was one of those happy warriors. He loved politics and loved teaching the mechanics and meaning of politics (remember his chalk board?). He was a person who was truly curious about why politicians did and said what they said, and had a professorial interest in knowing what was behind the thinking of people who dare to call themselves "leader" today.
But there is a lesson in all these tributes, anecdotes and remembrances. Ironically, it is a lesson that may get lost in the hoopla around his death. It is a lesson that all of us--we who preach and celebrate sacraments, we who take part in the councils of the church, we who follow the ups and downs of the Anglican/Episcopal battles in blogs and interest groups--can profit from.
The lesson is this. Faith in Jesus Christ and grounded in the Church makes a real difference in this world, in this life, right now. Russert was a man of faith. It did not make him less worldly. Faith did not make him more partisan. Faith did not make him smug or self-righteous. Faith made him who he was. His faith in Jesus Christ and his life in the Church made him better.
And a better Tim Russert made for a better world.
And a better you and a better me, grounded in faith and company of faithful people, makes for a better world.
He defined himself as a Catholic Christian. He said about his parents that their faith did not cause them "to wave around their rosaries" but that it give them hope and a sense of belonging to God. Their faith made them better.
That is why he spoke at Notre Dame to the sex abuse scandals of his Church. The abuse was at once a violation of the person and dignity of the victims, a violation of sacred trust, and a violation of the meaning, source, and goal of the life of faith. Knowing what a life grounded in faith can be, he knew how utterly ruinous such crimes could be. He urged his Church to take it on before his Church could bring itself to.
Faith defines us. Faith guides us. Faith teaches us. Faith helps us care for other. Faith makes us better. Tim Russert was, by his own account, a person of faith.
Judging from the response to his death, everyone around him saw that.
The lesson is this: if Tim Russert is made better by his faith, so are we. He teaches us that politics is important, but what really matters is a gracious manner and generous heart. He taught that work is important, but what really matters is an unshakable hope, the ability to call out the best in others. He was famous, but he taught us that what is really important is compassion for the poor, the hurt, the lonely and the outcast.
Politics is important. Even church politics. But if at the end of the day, the fruits of faith are not there, what good is it? What earthly good can we in the church possibly be if people aren't living a life of faith that makes them better, more hopeful, more caring people?
We pray for Tim Russert and his family and friends in the grief. May God's holy angels surround them with God's love and peace. May Tim's soul and the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. May he and all who have died in Christ rise in glory at his glorious and triumphant return.