Culture

Father Scalia and the Human Heart

Father Paul Scalia
A pastor’s experience with truth, doctrine, and devotion.

‘The human heart is created for the truth, and the truth is meant for the human heart. Too often we separate these two or even set them at odds with each other — thus the great ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ debates: truth versus love, dogma versus charity. In fact, these two are to be united, and it is part of a priest’s duty to establish that union.”

Father Paul Scalia, a priest of the Archdiocese of Arlington, Va. — and son of the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia — writes the above in his new book, That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion, a volume that he says is a fruit of his two decades of pastoral experience. The book includes section introductions by people who have had an impact on his own faith. He writes about truth, the priesthood, the book, and his father in an interview with National Review Online.

 

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Regarding the title of your book, what are you worried might be lost? Why are you so concerned?

Father Paul Scalia: In general terms, we do not want to lose any truth that our Lord has given us. I hope that both my essays and those of the contributors will help keep His life-giving truths present to us. Specifically, another way of understanding the title is in light of the essential, organic union of doctrine and devotion. We should keep that safe . . . not allow it to be lost.

We live in a culture that has a hazy notion of the “spiritual” but little use for doctrine. However, without true doctrine (it’s a bad word in our culture, I know), the spiritual inevitably becomes either pure sentimentality or (worse) open to the deceptions of the evil one. Many people speak about being “spiritual but not religious,” by which I presume they mean that they think there is something supernatural . . . and perhaps they pray, but not according to any creed or religious tenet. Although it sounds like freedom, this is in fact a dangerous approach. To enter the spiritual realm without direction and according to one’s own whims either breeds superficiality or opens oneself up to spirits that are not God or of God.

The devotional life — by which I mean our prayers, sacrifices, worship; in a word, our personal relationship with God — this must be firmly rooted in the truth. Otherwise, we risk being devoted to our own imaginings. Conversely, in order for true doctrine to realize its purpose, it must find expression in the devotional life. The Church’s teachings are not meant to remain purely in the intellectual realm. They are meant to shape us and to be lived by us.

 

Lopez: Why is “the bond of Christian people and their priests . . . the strength of the Church in a skeptical world,” as Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput writes in the introduction to your book?

Scalia: Soon after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, a man in my parish — the husband of a parishioner — decided to become Catholic. He was inspired by the election of Benedict. But unlike many of us, he knew nothing about Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. That was not the draw. It was, as he explained, because he saw the Catholic world rejoice to have a father — a papa, a pope. He wanted to be part of that family.

The union of the pope with the people is a real spiritual bond. It also points to the more important bond of the children of God with their Heavenly Father. I think we see this also in the natural order. One of the most inspiring and enduring literary themes is that of a father and child. It expresses something that is deep within the human heart: to be reconciled with the Father.

This holds true on the local — the parish — level. (Tip O’Neill once quipped that “all politics is local.” So is all salvation.) The bond of the Christian people with their spiritual fathers — priests — both points to and enables them to enjoy that more profound bond with their heavenly Father. Just as the ministry of the apostles was central in the first years of the Church, so also today the apostolic faith continues by way of priestly ministry.

 

Lopez: What can we all learn from the life and death of Lizz Lovett, who wrote one of the chapter introductions for your book?

Scalia: I was privileged to be present for both Lizz’s baptism and her funeral — for her entrance into the Church and her entrance into heaven. Two words that come to mind in thinking of her beautiful example are docility and joy. Docility, of course, is not a quality that a lot of us would want to be known for. It smacks of weakness. But docility — “teachability,” you could say — enables us to receive divine truth peacefully and in a manner that truly transforms us. That is what I saw in Lizz when I was instructing her in the faith. She received and interiorized the Church’s teachings both swiftly and deeply. Ultimately, this quality in her would enable her to trust in the Lord as she struggled with cancer and faced death itself.

And joy. Lizz lived the faith with a levity and joy that was truly enviable. Some people can hold the faith in a brittle, white-knuckled, sort of way. They seem uncomfortable and can make others uncomfortable. Not Lizz. You could tell she was comfortable in her Catholic skin. She lived the faith joyfully, even as she approached a painful death.

One of the most beautiful memories I have of Lizz was her first Good Friday, the day before she was baptized. As you know, during the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion the faithful come forward and kiss the crucifix in veneration. Most do it in a perfunctory, detached, even somewhat sterile manner — a hasty peck of the lips, or perhaps just a bow of the head. Lizz came forward quite innocently and, in a self-forgetful manner, took the crucifix from my hands and gave our crucified Lord an unfeigned, heartfelt kiss. An audible “smack” was heard. She immediately blushed for having her devotion so revealed. I have often thought of that moment and that the Father must have gladly received the soul of one with such childlike love for His crucified Son.

 

Lopez: How are saints “masterpieces,” as you write?

Scalia: First, because they are beautiful. A life of moral excellence is beautiful. People realize this without knowing it. People intuited and would perhaps remark that Mother Teresa was beautiful. At the risk of sounding irreverent, in physical terms this was not true. But people still sensed a genuine beauty about her — something deeper than just her physical appearance that drew them.

The first chapter of Genesis depicts God as a great architect or artisan, constructing an orderly and beautiful world. His works in the order of grace are even more beautiful. He is the cause of the interior beauty and moral excellence that we find in the saints. Most importantly, He wants to work His artistry of grace in each of us. He seeks to form us by divine teaching and to transform us by His grace. This is the noble call of each person, to enter into such a union and relationship that everyone becomes another masterpiece.

 

Lopez: Do you think of your father when you happen upon news Supreme Court news , particularly about Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing? How do you think of your father?

Scalia: The news does not really figure into my thinking about my dad. I think of him in terms of my family, his influence on all of us, and our love for him. Of course, we are always proud to hear of him praised in the news. But the more important memories of him are as Dad.

 

Lopez: There were many accolades for your homily during your father’s funeral Mass; how did you receive them? What are your prayers for anyone who might still happen upon it, particularly in this book, which includes the text?

Scalia: My father’s funeral was a blessed example of the Church at prayer and a tribute to so many prayers of intercession. The occasion was, obviously, extraordinary — the funeral of a notable Catholic figure, at the National Shrine, with his son presiding. But aside from that, the Mass was simply what the Church asks a funeral Mass to be. The reverence and beauty of it are a credit to the Church’s liturgy and to the prayerfulness of the congregation. It is rare for so many people to come together with such devotion and reverence. My prayers for those who read that homily are the same as for any who mourn: a conversion of heart in light of eternity.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here.

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