Fr. Scalia talks to lawyers, judges about the law
Father Paul D. Scalia’s lapel microphone cut out soon after he began speaking at the Red Mass banquet last week, making it necessary for him to use a hand-held microphone.
“Now the problem, of course, for an Italian,” he said as the laughter grew in anticipation of his answer, “is that we need both hands to speak.”
He told the numerous judges and lawyers dispersed in front of him that his father, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, often spoke about faith, but that he, a priest, was going to speak about the law.
Father Scalia, the pastor of St. James Parish in Falls Church, Virginia, talked about “In Fairness to the Pharisees: The Law and Lawlessness.”
About 175 attended annual Mass
About 175 attended the annual Mass to invoke God’s blessing on the legislature, judiciary, and on lawyers and officers of the court at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita. The banquet was in Good Shepherd Hall.
Father Scalia said Jesus does not shy away from conflict and often initiates it. “From the start, he contrasts his followers with them. ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ He warns us against the leaven of the Pharisees, pronounces seven words of whoa against them, and so on.”
They seem to be the ultimate bad guys of the Gospel, he said, adding that we often use the word Pharisee as a pejorative.
Father Scalia chose the topic because they were devoted to the law – as lawyers ought to be, he said.
“I’ve referred to the Pharisees, as the ultimate bad guys. That’s actually not fair,” Father said.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees
“There were two main groups among the religious leaders in our Lord’s day, the Pharisees, as we know, and then the Sadducees. The Pharisees are more familiar because we hear about them more. The Sadducees are less well known because they appear less, and they appear less because our Lord simply engages with them less.”
Fr. Scalia said Jesus’ ministry did not concern the Sadducees unless it touched on the political, but he didn’t really have time for them. “They were so uninterested in what he came to say, to do, to reveal, that he almost never spoke to them.”
Our Lord came to establish a new and everlasting covenant with those awaiting the redemption of Israel, but the Sadducees were waiting to accumulate more power, he said.
The Pharisees believed in the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, in angels, in fidelity to the law of Moses, and wanted to maintain the covenant with God, Father told those listening at 23 tables scattered throughout the hall.
They also believed there was a proper way of living before God, he said. “They wanted to know that, and to live it, which is another way of saying they were convinced that there is an authentically human way of living, that there is a truth about what it means to be human, and how to live it. And they were convinced that that is found in the law of Israel.”
Pharisees were adherents to the law
But their extreme adherence made the law an end to itself, Father Scalia said.
“It was the will on their part that refused to go, not against the law but refused to go beyond it. Their devotion to the law was good. And our Lord confirmed that by saying that he had not come to abolish, but to fulfill the law. But they become too focused on it and could not see beyond it. They could not see the person who is the fulfillment of the law.”
Our Lord directs many of his parables and teachings to the Pharisees, he said, especially the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Laborers.
“In fairness to the Pharisees, they got a lot of things right. Most especially, there is a way to live, there is a law beyond the laws. And that is to be sought and to be desired and embraced,” he said.
“It’s precisely because they are so devoted to righteousness that our Lord is so attentive to them and demanding of them. And tragically, what they get wrong is that they refuse to go beyond the laws. It’s a distortion of their virtuous devotion to the law. That was their undoing.”
That is why we are uncomfortable about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he said, because we agree with the older brother. And it’s why we’re uncomfortable with the Parable of the Laborers, we agree with the ones who worked all day.
Our relationship with God
“We’re all inclined to that Pharasitical habit of reducing our relationship with God to a matter of quid pro quo and mere legal observance. We’re always in danger of that. After all, a legal code is much easier to observe than actually entering into a relationship with a person.”
It comes down to two simple points, he said: First the law is good. Second, the law is not all there is.
“The Catholic view of course is that the law is good. It is something that serves society, and society is at the service of the human person,” Father Scalia said. “And without the rule of law, we cannot enter into society in order to realize the fullness of who we are.”
The law produces a second benefit by drawing from a deeper truth than just worldly affairs, he said. “It points beyond itself to a law, beyond the laws to an order, and indeed a community, beyond what we see.”
Beyond the laws, is the Law, Our Lord himself, Father said. “They are there to govern us toward the good and to instill in us a sense that there is a good.
“The great tragedy of the Pharisees was not their devotion to the law. It was rather the distortion of that devotion.”
The Pharisees allowed their reverence for the law to become disproportionate, he said. “They neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. So the law became for them not a means to an end, a way of coming to God, but in effect the end itself. And so, in that regard, it became a form of idolatry.”
It’s the person, not the law
The Pharisees became so attentive to the law that they forgot about the person, Father Scalia said.
“This serves, of course, as a warning to those in the legal profession because the legal profession – important, noble, of great service – is neither the only thing nor the most important thing,” he said. “There is a danger of allowing legal work to overshadow persons, to overshadow your families, your friends, your very selves.”
The tragedy of the Pharisees is that they should have been the most suited to receive the Messiah, to welcome the one who is the fulfillment of the law, Father Scalia said.
“They failed in that. But still, only those who have the proper appreciation for laws can then rejoice to know Jesus as the lawgiver,” he said. “The reverse is also true. Those who know the Law himself, those who know Jesus Christ, also know the proper place of laws in society. Which is why people of faith are so important for a free society. Only those who know that there is an ultimate law will be able to situate authority in its proper place.”
We understand that government derives its authority ultimately from God, he said, and that those in the government are ministers of the law, servants of the law. “They have been conceded a certain authority by God in his providence and will have to answer to him.”
Abortion and transgender ideology are two subjects where there is a crisis of meaning.
“’Male and female he created them,’ are the first and most important words about us,” Father said. “That law about our human nature in many quarters is now rejected. Here is the strongest rejection of the rule of law. It’s a rejection of God’s design and creation of us. In other words, we’ve come to the point that we want to make ourselves, instead of receiving our creation.”
The church is called to bring to the world what people of faith bring to a secular society, he said, to live uprightly and righteously.
“In so doing we witness to not only to the truth of what it means to be human and therefore, how to construct a just society; but also a witness, and even more importantly, to the one who reveals us to ourselves, Jesus Christ Himself.”
Bishop Kemme’s Red Mass homily
Bishop Carl A. Kemme welcomed Father Scalia during his homily in the Mass that preceded the banquet.
The bishop confessed that on a recent flight back to Wichita, instead of reading a book of some speeches by the late Justice Antonio Scalia, he watched an in-flight movie: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The movie is about Fred Rogers, the host of the long-running PBS children’s series.
Bishop Kemme talked about the child-like personality of Rogers adding that his personality was the same in front of or away from the camera.
“He had a unique ability to speak to the young and young at heart about anything, even painful realities like fear, sadness, suffering, and death.”
The bishop asked those attending where they left their innocent, curious, honest, and refreshingly simple inner child. “Jesus was such a person, who never lost the childlike nature of his being. It is to such as these, Jesus also said, that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.”
“If we have lost that inner child because of worldly pursuits or abandoned that child along the roadside of our personal history, then we have robbed ourselves of a great deal of joy that even in this life we can experience.”
There is much that divides and overwhelms us these days, Bishop Kemme said, adding that most of it is caused by our own doing.
“God brought us into this world as a child for a reason, so that we would know first in this life how we will live in heaven, being loved by God who is a loving Father, by sharing life with others without the burden of anxiety and stress.”