The homily of Father Paul Scalia at the funeral Mass for his father, Justice Antonin Scalia, witnessed to the world what it means to be Catholic in the public square.
The sudden death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13 came as a great shock to me, and is a great loss to this nation. The tributes to his legacy are many, and over time I believe he will be remembered and cited as a major legal mind on the Supreme Court with the soul of America as his primary benefactor.
“In years to come,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, “any history of the Supreme Court will, and must, recount the wisdom, scholarship and technical brilliance that Justice Scalia brought to the court.” Sadly, tragically, too many Americans are unaware of the importance of having an Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court until we find ourselves unjustly in the sights of justice run amok. And it does run amok at time, you know. At least, you know that I know it.
From the point of view of Justice Scalia’s second vocation in life, law, one of the finest tributes to him came from another great legal mind, Harvey Silverglate. Mr. Silverglate is a Boston civil rights lawyer who is widely published and greatly respected. In “Despite a Full Life, Justice Scalia dies prematurely – by at least one measure”, Harvey Silverglate wrote something for which I much admired Justice Scalia, and TSW readers should readily understand why:
“Scalia was what we called an ‘originalist’ – someone who believes that when the Constitution was written, its words, phrases, and concepts were meant to set out a blueprint for society where government powers are limited, where citizens’ rights and obligations are spelled out . . . . Scalia took literally and absolutely some constitutional commands that other judges and justices try to skirt or redefine in order to achieve what they view as some overriding social or political goal.
“Scalia prioritized free speech rights, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, protection of the right to trial by jury (despite others’ repeated attempts to cut corners . . . . ). Justice Scalia, more than any other member of the High Court during his 30-year tenure, waged war with the government’s attempt to attack the liberty of citizens. . . ”
I much appreciate this fine tribute to Justice Scalia. When These Stone Walls was first launched in July 2009, Harvey Silverglate was its first subscriber. Since then, he has mailed many of his articles to me, such as the one above, knowing that I cannot access them online.
I, too, have cited Justice Scalia on occasion. The most recent was his stinging dissent in last year’s split (5-4) Supreme Court decision in Obergefel v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage decision. In my post, “The Dying of the Light: Religious Liberty in America,” I wrote with admiration not only for his dissent soundly rooted in the Constitution, but for his animated rebuke of his own Court:
“The dissent of Justice Scalia was even more stinging. Citing the danger of such legislation from the bench, Scalia pointed out that a system of government ‘that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.’ Justice Scalia described the lawyers who comprise this Court as ‘select, patrician, highly unrepresentative,’ education either at Harvard or Yale, four from New York City, eight from the East or West Coast and ‘only one from the vast expanse in between.’ None of this would matter, Justice Scalia wrote, if the Court’s members were ‘functioning as judges,’ ruling impartially, without some political agenda for social reconstruction. ‘This judicial putsch,’ wrote Justice Scalia in dissent, is the product of ‘hubris.’”
I suggested above that law was Antonin Scalia’s second vocation in life. It became clear to me in the days after his death that his first vocation was his family and his faith. Above all else, he was a husband, father, and devout Catholic, a man who left this life teaching us a lesson about what it means to be Catholic in the public square.
Justice Scalia’s son, Father Paul D. Scalia, is Vicar for Clergy in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. I listened intently to Father Scalia’s mesmerizing homily at the Mass of Christian Burial for his father on February 20. I am grateful to EWTN for airing the entire Mass, but I listened so intently that I forgot to take notes and wished that I had a copy of the homily. Several TSW readers since then have sent copies to me without even being asked.
Father Scalia’s words were simply remarkable, and a treasured reminder of faith and family and witness that seemed a perfect backdrop for Lent. Here is one passage that moved me, and many:
“He was a practicing Catholic, practicing in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet, or rather, that Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter Heaven. We are here then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin . . . . Let us not show him a false love, and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers.”
I may now be the only prisoner in America who offers some of his days and nights in prison as a share in the suffering of Christ for the soul of Antonin Scalia. But from our limited perspective in this tapestry of life in grace, God called for him at a most inopportune time for us.
But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Time is not for us. Our politics and politicians evolve – or devolve as the case may be. But it’s Lent and it’s time to allow our priorities to be sifted and our focus to be narrowed. As Father Paul Scalia reminded us in the final words of that riveting homily:
“We must allow this encounter with Eternity to change us. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever!”
I am giving Father Scalia the last word, and end this post with his beautiful homily. It is not long, and it is a wonderful preparation for the great adventure of faith into which we will soon enter during Holy Week.