Funeral plans for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were announced earlier this morning. The body of the first Italian-American to serve on the bench will lie in repose in the Great Hall of the high court this coming Friday.
His funeral, which will be open to the public, will take place on Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
It’s impossible to overstate the effect Justice Scalia had on the Supreme Court during his nearly 30-year tenure. He had a brilliant mind, a sharp wit, and served as a “reliable anchor” to the Court’s originalist wing.
He was and is, in a word, irreplaceable.
But for all of Justice Scalia’s important professional contributions, I want to take a different route and share a few thoughts about his other legacy… that of his faith and family.
Justice Scalia and his wife Maureen married in 1960. They went on to have five sons and four daughters. Now adults, all are successful. Two are lawyers, one is a lieutenant colonel in the Army, and another is a writer and public relations executive. One of their sons became a Catholic priest.
“We had our own culture,” Justice Scalia told his biographer, Joan Biskupic. “The first thing you’ve got to teach your kids is what my parents used to tell me all the time: ‘You’re not everybody else. We have our own standards and they aren’t the standards of the world in all respects, and the sooner you learn that the better.’”
All nine of the Scalia children attended public school during an incredibly turbulent time of social upheaval. “They were being raised in a culture that wasn’t supportive of our values, that was certainly true,” Scalia told Biskupic. “But we were helped by the fact that we were such a large family.”
Raising professionally successful children is a victory in itself, but what is especially notable is none of the nine have strayed from their faith and conservative values. Also among the Scalia nine is a daughter who works with a marriage ministry that encourages couples to invest in their relationship. Another daughter uses her experience with multiple miscarriages to help women facing the same challenges.
It’s been said that you really don’t know how your children turned out until you see your grandchildren. If that’s true, Justice Scalia and his wife did a very good job. Many of the late justice’s children and grandchildren posted tributes to their father and grandfather on Facebook this past week. Antonin Scalia, a grandson, was perhaps the most poignant. Here is what he wrote:
I am overwhelmed and deeply grateful for the outpouring of support which my family and I have received. My grandfather was one of my heroes in life, and will remain as such. He was much more than a brilliant intellectual, he was a loving grandfather, someone whom I loved deeply. There are no words to adequately encapsulate the man that he was, nor accurately describe the profound impact that he has had on my life and the lives of others. I share his name proudly, and find consolation in knowing that he is now in a far greater place. Rest in Paradise, Pop-Pop.
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
Antonin, was, of course, quoting the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth (2 Cor. 5:6-8). The Scalias’ Christian faith, shared by three generations, is clearly a source of tremendous comfort.
Reading the children and grandchildren’s words, I was reminded that the single best thing parents can do to pass on their religious beliefs to their children and grandchildren is to live out an authentic, vibrant faith themselves. It’s evident that the Scalia children grew up witnessing their mom and dad practicing their faith. Consider these words from Justice Scalia:
Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world…
Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”
It was a message Justice Scalia shared on more than one occasion during talks at faith-based events. But more importantly, it’s a message he lived out in his own life. Despite reaching the highest echelons of power and influence, Justice Scalia remained grounded.
Yesterday I saw a post from a man who witnessed the late jurist comforting a hurting woman in church one spring afternoon. Away from the cameras and the public spotlight, he was just another Christian man on the journey of life.
“He held her face next to his, and she talked beneath her tears that were now streaming down his suit,” wrote the eyewitness, Jeffrey Tucker. “He didn’t try to get away. He just held her while she spoke. This lasted for perhaps more than 5 minutes. He closed his eyes while she spoke, gripping her back with his hand … What he said comforted her, and she gained composure. She pulled away, ready to go. He held her rough, sore-filled hands and had a few final words that I could not hear. He gave her some money.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Do you walk the talk of your faith when nobody is looking? Are you willing to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world for the sake of Jesus Christ?
That a 79-year-old man has died shouldn’t shock us. After all, according to conservative estimates, approximately 155,000 people die every day. But I do hope that the suddenness of the justice’s death serves as another reminder of the brevity and unpredictability of life. Less than a week ago, Justice Scalia was sitting in his chair inside the Supreme Court, talking and working his way through a number of important matters. Today, that chair is empty and draped in black crepe, and all the flags of the federal government fly at half-staff. He had planned to return from Texas on Sunday night. He did. In a flag-draped casket.
It’s a foolish person who assumes tomorrow will always come.
Let me ask you a question.
If these were your last days on earth and by this time next week you were dead, what would you hope people might say about you? How do you want to be remembered? Please do me a favor and ponder that question and then, if you like, share your desired epitaph below. It’s a sobering exercise but, at least for me, it’s a strong reminder to make the most of my days on earth and to invest my life in the things that matter most. I hope it is for you, too.