Father Paul Scalia

Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about

Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about

In the end, here was the question that loomed over the funeral Mass of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: Was this a political event? The answer is easy to find, simply by glancing at the coverage offered by several elite newsrooms.

That answer: Of course this was a political event. What would the alternative be? Actually covering the words and symbols of the event itself, which in this case would have led to news reports containing the doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith?

That would never do. That wouldn't be "real," since Scalia was clearly a powerful player in the world of law and politics -- the "real" world.

You know that this inside-the-Beltway prejudice against religious faith being "real" was on the mind of Father Paul Scalia, the preacher and celebrant. As one of the justice's sons, you know that he was more than aware of his father's convictions about the content of funeral rites and the sermons preached in them (and thus mentioned this subject in his funeral sermon). Click here for Antonin Scalia's thoughts on that.

Readers had a chance to know what the family was thinking because of the opening lines of Father Scalia's sermon, which directly challenged the Beltway mindset. If anyone saw these words reported in a mainstream news story, please let me know. I know that this is long. That's the point:

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.

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Looking ahead to Justice Scalia's funeral, with a flashback to wisdom from his son, the priest

Looking ahead to Justice Scalia's funeral, with a flashback to wisdom from his son, the priest

So what mattered the most in the end, the contents of Justice Antonin Scalia's heart or his head?

Where did the work of the Catholic believer (some journalists called him a "fundamentalist") end and the fierce advocate of Constitutional "originalism" begin?

At mid-week, when host Todd Wilken and I recorded or next "Crossroads" podcast -- click here to tune that in -- I was still wrestling with the following quote from Notre Dame University law professor Richard Garnett, which was featured in a Time magazine think piece about Scalia's impact on American law and culture.

“A big part of his legacy will be how navigated the relationship between one’s deeply held faith commitments and one’s role as a judge,” Garnett, of Notre Dame, says. “For him, the way to navigate that relationship, it was not to compromise one’s religious faith or water it down, it was to distinguish between the legal questions the judge has the power to answer and the religious commitments that a judge has the right to hold, just like all of us do.”

In other words, something like this? "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." That is never an easy task.

While the news media remains focused on the political fallout after Scalia's death, I think it will be interesting to note the fine details of what is sure to be a grand funeral service in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We know that President Barack Obama will be missing, but how many bishops, archbishops and cardinals will find their way into the "choir"? To what degree will the service -- as the justice desired -- focus on basic Christian beliefs about eternity, as opposed to hints about legal wars in the here and now?

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