I want to begin by suggesting that every class in homiletics given in the seminary should include as a model approaching perfect that given by Father Paul Scalia at this father’s funeral Mass last Saturday. At the Shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and on national television, Father Scalia gave a textbook homily which combined very sound death/resurrection theology with artful application to his dad and did so with total control of his emotions under what any priest will tell you is a difficult setting and situation – the funeral Mass for one’s parent.
I had two opportunities in my life to be in close proximity with Justice Scalia. The first occurred during my first year as General Secretary of the NCCB/USCC, 1989. The Apostolic Nuncio at the time, Archbishop Pio Laghi had invited Justice Scalia and his wife to lunch at the Nunciature and somehow he also invited myself. When I arrived the Scalia’s were already present and Archbishop Laghi and the judge were engaged in some classic Italian boasting. A simple Irish monsignor could do nothing else but shut up and listen and hope it would end soon.
At the table, somehow the conversation managed to turn around to the pastoral letters on the economy and justice and peace and Justice Scalia articulated clearly and concisely that he was not a fan of either and was not looking forward to the third part of the triptych which was to deal with the role of women in society and the Church. As the rhetoric became a little more heated, the Nuncio, realizing for the first time that I was at table said, “Monsignor Lynch, what do you have to say to the judge?” Before I could answer Scalia piped up and said, “Don’t give me the line that those pastoral letters are really written by bishops. They are the work product of staff.” To which I responded, “and much the same way, Your Honor, as the decisions of the Supreme Court are written start to finish by the nine of you. You too have clerks.” There was muffled laughter from the others at table, including Mrs. Scalia, and the judge simply smiled and said, “touché.”
The second time was in St. Petersburg at the annual Federal Bar dinner. Apparently the Federal Bar dinners had fallen into some desuetude and the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court of Florida, Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich hoped to restore some pizzazz. She called me up one day and asked if I would be willing to write to Judge Scalia and ask if he would be willing to come to Tampa to give the principal address at the annual banquet. He responded affirmatively (I also wrote similar letters to Justices Thomas, Alito and the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist and all accepted the invitations and the number of lawyers attending the bar dinners dramatically increased). Judge Scalia arrived at the table and it was clearly evident that he was not in a good frame of mind. Testy might be a better word. It seemed that he came under the impression that he would be speaking to a mostly Catholic gathering of lawyers and was surprised to find that there was nothing distinctly Catholic about the event. Unhappy, he said that he would not deliver the speech he had come prepared to give but instead gave his stock speech on originalism. It was fine, well-received with a standing ovation, but he could not sit down fast enough. I was not blamed in any way but I wish I had been sitting at another table.
I was mostly an admirer of his intelligence and view of the role of law even if I would occasionally grimace the verbal attack on his colleagues, most often in the majority but occasionally in the minority. I also thought his positions on the framer’s wisdom on the death penalty and some social justice issues was nowhere as intelligent and thoughtful and committed Catholic as he should be. I need not add my insignificant name to the list of those who will miss him on the court, as I know his family will miss him in life. I am not proud at this moment of the Republican majority in the Senate who say they will not even interview any candidate proposed by the President. No one can tell how a person called to serve on the court might ultimately turn out: in my lifetime Justices Brennan, Souter, and Kennedy have been somewhat surprising. The Republicans recall the punches they took on the Bork nomination and they have always wanted to pay the Democrats back for that ugly moment. Imagine the punches they may have to take again after this debacle if they lose control of the Senate. Antonin Scalia was a master of statesman craft and I would hope that those we have elected to advise and consent might rise to this occasion with wisdom, magnanimity, and courage.