Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Justice Scalia and St. Thomas More

Father Paul Scalia celebrated his father's funeral Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Video of his homily is readily available on several media outlets. He began with a trap, setting us up to think his homily would be a eulogy for Antonin Scalia:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of him. because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

Scripture says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. And that sets a good course for our thoughts and our prayers here today. In effect, we look in three directions. To yesterday, in thanksgiving. To today, in petition. And into eternity, with hope.

If you've heard the homily, you should have caught the reference to St. Thomas More, whom Justice Scalia admired and revered:

God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing, a blessing quickly lost when faith is banned form the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there. So he understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and public servant he became. God blessed him with the desire to be the country’s good servant because he was God’s first.

This blog post discusses how Scalia admired St. Thomas More:

Justice Antonin Scalia’s veneration of St. Thomas More was well known. His chambers included a replica of Hans Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More. At Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, Antonin Scalia wore a replica of the round black hat More wears in that portrait.

Scalia revered Thomas More for his conscientious and principled loyalty to Catholic teaching. Scalia scorned the image promoted in Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons of More as being some free-thinking individualist who happened to find himself in disagreement with King Henry VIII over his second marriage to Ann (sic) Boleyn. Instead, Scalia honored Thomas More as the loyal Catholic he was in historical fact.

On the Theophilus Blog, in association with the Catholic Theological Union, Gerald E. Nora goes on to recount an example of Scalia citing St. Thomas More at a meeting of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago. More about that hat here.

As I listened to the homily on Saturday, I thought of the other St. Thomas More connection as Father Paul reminded us, as More did in his Supplication of Souls, not to canonize the dead immediately, but to pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory:

So we look to the past, to Jesus Christ yesterday. We call to mind all of these blessings, and we give our Lord the honor and glory for them, for they are His work. We look to Jesus today, in petition, to the present moment, here and now, as we mourn the one we love and admire, the one whose absence pains us. Today we pray for him. We pray for the repose of his soul. We thank God for his goodness to Dad as is right and just. But we also know that although dad believed, he did so imperfectly, like the rest of us. He tried to love God and neighbor, but like the rest of us did so imperfectly.

He was a practicing Catholic, “practicing” in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or rather, 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.

But don’t take my word for it. Dad himself, not surprisingly, had something to say on the matter. Writing years ago to a Presbyterian minister whose funeral service he admired, he summarized quite nicely the pitfalls of funerals and why he didn’t like eulogies.

He wrote: “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.”

Now he would not have exempted himself from that. We are here then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner. To this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: That all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen. 

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