Father William Byron, S.J.

Father William Byron, S.J.

News in August that President Jimmy Carter’s cancer had spread from his liver to his brain brought sadness to many in America and around the world, but his assurance that he will be “at ease with whatever comes” came as no surprise to those who have followed the 39th president of the United States over the years.

His faith runs deep. He will teach Sunday school classes at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, as his radiation schedule permits. And the children who meet him in the classroom will be privileged to listen to a 90-year-old believer explain the meaning of Bible verses that bring the word of God to them and to him.

To be “at ease with whatever comes” is a simple way of saying I entrust myself to the Lord. That is faith, not fatalism.

The “whatever” that lies ahead for Jimmy Carter will probably involve pain and will surely take the peanut-farmer president through the door of death into the endless day of eternal life. His Bible explains all that to him; his acceptance in faith of what the Bible says puts him now at ease. He is ready. He is grateful.

At the top of the list of those things for which he is grateful is Rosalynn, his wife of 69 years. Their marriage has brought another dimension of faith and fidelity to his life. For this he is surely grateful.

There are regrets, of course. He didn’t choose to be a one-term president. But he did choose to make his post-presidential years the most productive of anyone who ever held that office.

After leaving the White House, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter established the Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta. The center is committed to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. It seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.

That agenda has propelled Jimmy Carter’s travel, thinking and energy for more than 30 years.

But his home remains in Plains, Georgia. Built in 1961, it is a small brick single-story structure right in the heart of the small town where Jimmy and Rosalynn grew up.

They have a housekeeper, Mary Fitzpatrick, an African-American who has been with the family for 40-odd years. She first worked for the Carters when he was governor of Georgia and she was a convicted murderer on day release. The Carters asked her to look after their then-3-year-old daughter, Amy.

That background fact, which I found in an article in the British journal The Guardian, tells me a lot about the heart and mind of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. They live the Beatitudes. They know what it means to be single-hearted and poor in spirit.

Jimmy Carter continues to live his faith as life runs out for him. He can say that he is “at ease with whatever comes” and really mean it. Faith has a way of fixing the unfixable and making everything just right.


Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Email: wbyron@sju.edu.