Many Lutherans have been praising Father Scalia’s Sermon at the Mass said for his Father on the occasion of his death. But I would suggest that those Lutherans let one or two lines shield their eyes from the great error throughout this sermon. Let me prove this point as I comment on each part of the sermon.
Your Eminence Cardinal Wuerl, Your Excellencies, Archbishop Viganò, Bishop Loverde, Bishop Higgins, my brother priests, deacons, distinguished guests, dear friends and faithful gathered:
I will not overstep early, but the deference show here is to the hierarchy of the church, extending all the way up to Pope, who demands absolute obedience for salvation.
On behalf of our mother and the entire Scalia family, I want to thank you for your presence here, for your many words of consolation, and even more for the many prayers and Masses you have offered at the death of our father, Antonin Scalia.
He thanks them for the prayers and masses they have offered. These masses are offered as works of man to move God to release his father from purgatory into heaven. Jesus’ death is not sufficient. Prayers and masses must be offered.
In particular I thank Cardinal Wuerl, first for reaching out so quickly and so graciously to console our mother. It was a consolation to her and therefore to us as well. Thank you also for allowing us to have this parish funeral Mass here in this basilica dedicated to Our Lady. What a great privilege and consolation that we were able to bring our father through the holy doors and for him gain the indulgence promised to those who enter in faith.
First, he finds particular comfort is having this Mass at the Basilica dedicated to Mary. Secondly, having this mass in this location he believes will grant his father a special indulgence. Again, he suggests that this pilgrimage of sorts has eternal merit before the Father in heaven.
I thank Bishop Loverde, the bishop of our diocese of Arlington, a bishop our father liked and respected a great deal. Thank you, Bishop Loverde, for your prompt visit to our mother, for your words of consolation, for your prayers.
This sounds just fine, but again prayers offered by the bishop are assumed to move his father closer to eternal glory.
The family will depart for the private burial immediately after Mass and will not have time to visit, so I want to express our thanks at this time so that you all know our profound appreciation and thanks. You will notice in the program mention of a memorial that will be held on March 1st. We hope to see many of you there. We hope the Lord will repay your great goodness to us.
The Lord is asked to reward the people for their works. Not only will their prayers help in his father’s salvation, but in the salvation of those praying also.
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.
These are the lines that have received such rave reviews. The rhetoric is awesome, since many supposed the funeral would be all about his dad. It no doubt hooked the hearers. And out of context, the things said are laudable in many respects. But the very last line is telling. Even with all the talk of Jesus, we still need to simply commend Antonin to the mercy of God. There is still more to be done, more to perfect (more to come later). It fails to realize that Jesus is the mercy of God in all its fullness. He is not just the start of the mercy but the finish as well.
Scripture says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. And that sets a good course for our thoughts and our prayers here today. In effect, we look in three directions. To yesterday, in thanksgiving. To today, in petition. And into eternity, with hope.
We look to Jesus Christ yesterday, that is, to the past, in thanksgiving for the blessings God bestowed upon Dad. In the past week, many have recounted what Dad did for them. But here today, we recount what God did for Dad, how he blessed him.
Again, the Lutheran wishes to rejoice at this last line. Yes, we are going to talk about God’s activity rather than eulogizing the dead. But again, listen to the three fold suggestion. God has done things in the past, and so there is thanksgiving. But in the present there is needed prayer, not for the mourners but for Antonin himself. He is still not free of need. The people must pray him into heaven. They must pray to part the doors of purgatory. And so the future remains only hopeful and not certain.
We give thanks first of all for the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Lord died and rose not only for all of us, but also for each of us. And at this time we look to that yesterday of his death and resurrection, and we give thanks that he died and rose for Dad.
Further, we give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist, and healed him in the confessional.
Awesome stuff if read by one with a Lutheran understanding of salvation. But notice the talk is mostly about new life and not forgiveness. Why? Because because this is the Roman view of salvation. God begins that work in people through Jesus, but then it must be perfected through man’s works.
We give thanks that Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage to the woman he loved, a woman who could match him at every step, and even hold him accountable.
Nice shoot out to Mom.
God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith: The conviction that Christ’s presence and power continue in the world today through His body, the Church. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings. He treasured the church’s ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation as Christ working within him for his salvation.
The keys words here are working “within him.” Again this is the Roman teaching of infused grace. God puts His grace in you and then you must use it properly to earn salvation.
Although one time, one Saturday afternoon, he did scold me for having heard confessions that afternoon, that same day. And I hope that it’s some source of consolation, if there are any lawyers present, that the Roman collar was not a shield against his criticism.
The issue that evening was not that I had been hearing confessions, but that he had found himself in my confessional line, and he quickly departed it. As he put it later, “Like heck if I’m confessing to you!”
The feeling was mutual.
God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing, a blessing quickly lost when faith is banned form the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there. So he understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and public servant he became. God blessed him with the desire to be the country’s good servant because he was God’s first.
To comment on these thoughts would be to distract from the point of this post. It would be worthy of more type strokes sometime though.
We Scalias, however, give thanks for a particular blessing God bestowed. God blessed Dad with a love for his family. We have been thrilled to read and hear the many words of praise and admiration for him, for his intellect, his writings, his speeches, his influence and so on.
But more important to us — and to him — is that he was Dad. He was the father that God gave us for the great adventure of family life. Sure he forgot our names at times, or mixed them up, but there are nine of us.
He loved us, and sought to show that love. And sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured. And he gave us one another, to have each other for support. That’s the greatest wealth parents can bestow, and right now we are particularly grateful for it.
Beautiful talk about family and the blessings of it. Such eloquence about the blessing of families is always welcome to my ears. My only sadness here is that the words seem to suggest to me that Scalia was not particularly present for his family. But maybe I am reading more into it than is there.
So we look to the past, to Jesus Christ yesterday. We call to mind all of these blessings, and we give our Lord the honor and glory for them, for they are His work. We look to Jesus today, in petition, to the present moment, here and now, as we mourn the one we love and admire, the one whose absence pains us. Today we pray for him. We pray for the repose of his soul. We thank God for his goodness to Dad as is right and just. But we also know that although dad believed, he did so imperfectly, like the rest of us. He tried to love God and neighbor, but like the rest of us did so imperfectly.
He was a practicing Catholic, “practicing” in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or rather, Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter heaven. We are here, then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin.
Here we get to what I talked about before. The present is a time to pray that Scalia’s soul might finally rest. It is not at rest yet. Prayers and masses must be said in order that it might someday rest. He cannot rest because he did not in his life perfect the grace given to him through Jesus. Jesus did not free him from every encumbrance of sin. Such freedom was not deliver to him in baptism once and for all.
But don’t take my word for it. Dad himself, not surprisingly, had something to say on the matter. Writing years ago to a Presbyterian minister whose funeral service he admired, he summarized quite nicely the pitfalls of funerals and why he didn’t like eulogies.
He wrote: “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.”
Now he would not have exempted himself from that. We are here then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner. To this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: That all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.
Again we hear phrases here that cheer the Lutheran heart. But it is not biblical doctrine. The basic point is this. Don’t just praise dad. He needs you prayers. His perfection must be completed by your prayers in order that he can rest. Jesus did not provide that rest, despite His promises to do so. This is pure purgatory talk.
Finally we look to Jesus forever, into eternity. Or better, we consider our own place in eternity and whether it will be with the Lord. Even as we pray for Dad to enter swiftly into eternal glory, we should be mindful of ourselves. Every funeral reminds us of just how thin the veil is between this world and the next, between time and eternity, between the opportunity for conversion and the moment of judgment.
So we cannot depart here unchanged. It makes no sense to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy to Dad if we are not attentive and responsive to those realities in our own lives. We must allow this encounter with eternity to change us, to turn us from sin and towards the Lord.
The English Dominican, Father Bede Jarrett, put it beautifully when he prayed, “O strong son of God, while you prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that we may be with you and with those we love for all eternity.”
Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Again this seems just almost right. And yet, Roman Catholic doctrine suggest that this turning is one of works and not faith primarily.
My dear friends, this is also the structure of the Mass, the greatest prayer we can offer for Dad, because it’s not our prayer, but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past — reaches to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection — and it makes those mysteries and their power present here on this altar.
Jesus himself becomes present here today under the form of bread and wine so that we can unite all our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself as an offering to the father. And all of this with a view to eternity, stretching towards heaven, where we hope one day to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see Dad again and, with him, rejoice in the communion of saints.
Here the Lord’s Supper is taught as an ongoing sacrifice to the Father. We offer Jesus to the Father in order that He might have mercy. The Scriptures teach us that in the supper Jesus offers Himself to us in mercy. Big difference.
I understand why Lutherans thought they loved this sermon. It was the basic idea that the funeral sermon was to be about Jesus and not the one in the casket. But the Jesus proclaimed is not the one we worship. We do not worship the Jesus who is just the author of our faith but the perfecter. We do not worship one who simple infuses grace into us in order that we must strive then towards perfection. We do not worship a Jesus who needs to be offered time and time again to God weekly in the mass but a Jesus who offers himself to us weekly because He was offered once and for all to God on the Cross. We do not worship a Jesus who sits and waits for prayer and masses to be offered before giving him people rest. Those who died in Him rest with Him right away and will be raised up on the last day.
This sermon was a pure exposition of the very Roman Catholic doctrines Luther rallied against: infused grace, salvation by works, the sacrifice of the mass, indulgences, and purgatory. They still take glory away from Jesus just like they did 500 years ago. Let not the beauty of the ritual and one point about not eulogizing the dead close our eyes to the serious errors throughout this sermon.