Saturday, February 20, 2016

Scalia on Sundays.



In recent days, I've been pondering whether or not to say anything here about last week's meeting in Havana between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. I finally decided not to say anything on my own about the Havana meeting, but if you want to read something good on point, the best responses I've read come from Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk and from Father Andriy Chirovsky in First Things (with a follow-up at Catholic World Report).

Today's post was occasioned not by the Havana meeting but by the passing of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, whose funeral took place this morning in Washington. The news of Justice Scalia's death as well as the various public tributes and reminiscences of his life offered over the past week have given me occasion to wax nostalgic about my life before entering the Society. I saw Justice Scalia a number of times when I was in college and law school, and we once shook hands and chatted briefly during a reception at Notre Dame; of those various encounters, the most memorable remains the first, which took place not in a courtroom or a lecture hall but rather at Mass, on a Sunday morning at Old St. Mary's Church in Washington. Before I went to the nine o' clock Mass at Old St. Mary's for the first time, I had been told that I could expect to see Antonin Scalia in the pews, and those reports proved accurate. Many were the Sundays when I saw Justice Scalia kneeling in his usual place, a well-thumbed pocket missal in hand, edifyingly discreet and unassuming in spite of his fame and influence. As it seemed to me then (and still seems to me now), Antonin Scalia was a man who understood that the greatness of human accomplishments and worldly renown loom very small when compared with the greatness of God.

For another appreciation of Scalia on Sundays, it's worth reading what Kenneth Wolfe wrote a couple of days ago in the Wall Street Journal. Most of Wolfe's tribute is trapped behind the WSJ firewall, but the first few paragraphs provide a good idea of the content:
Antonin Scalia attended the traditional Latin Mass nearly every Sunday, at St. John the Beloved church near his home in McLean, Va., or at St. Mary Mother of God church in the Chinatown section of Washington, D.C. When he went to the latter location, it was usually followed by a day of reading in his nearby Supreme Court office, which he did for decades on certain Sundays during the court's term.

In the 20 years I saw him at Mass, not once was he protected by Supreme Court police or by U.S. Marshals. The associate justice with his home number still listed in the telephone book was surprisingly down to earth, true to his New Jersey roots. It was not uncommon to see him park his BMW on G Street in the District before Mass and put on his necktie using the car's mirror. He would walk into St. Mary's with his pre-Vatican II hand missal, always sitting in the same general area, near Patrick Buchanan, about halfway up the aisle on the far left side of the nave.

Justice Scalia loved music, especially opera. So when I was the director of an amateur choir at St. Mary's in the late 1990s (in a Verizon Center-less neighborhood far different from today), we were under increased pressure during the Sundays when he attended High Mass. Our choir was admittedly awful, and even though we rehearsed every Thursday night and Sunday morning, it didn't seem to help much.
Wolfe goes on to explain that Scalia's critical comments about the quality of the choir at Old St. Mary's later led to great improvements in the music program, such that the Justice's initially lonely musical "dissent" made life better for the entire congregation. That strikes me as an excellent way to be remembered, and on this, the day of Justice Scalia's funeral, that is how I remember him. AMDG.

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