Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor -- by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

“He will take no man's money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.

“The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”

Raymond Thornton Chandler (1888-1959)

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This past Saturday morning, Antonin Gregory Scalia, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1986, by appointment of President Ronald Reagan, was found dead in his guest room at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Shafter, Texas. Following a day of quail hunting, he was at a party with about forty other people the evening before, when he retired for the night. Local authorities and the family decided against an autopsy, and it was determined that he died of natural causes. He was less than two months shy of his eightieth birthday.

It was in those hours before the dawn, that the Still Small Voice called for him.

Do any one of us know when we will be called as well? Our brother Antonin knew no better than any of us. What he did know, is that all of us die, leaving only a question of when and how. While we are asleep, we are at peace, apart from the world and its comings and goings, apart from one's own worries and cares, alone with ourselves, if only for an interlude. It is in the stillness that we may be so blessed to hear that Voice, calling us to what we long to be the heart's true home. That is why, to leave in the stillness of the night while sleeping, is known in the tradition of Catholic piety as "the happy death."

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VIDEO: From September 2010. The US Supreme Court's Antonin Scalia discusses his public and private life in a remarkably candid interview with Lesley Stahl (Part One).

Here on earth below, much is being written of his legacy; of his "originalist" philosophy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, that the Founding Fathers meant what they wrote at the time that they wrote it, and that common sense demanded it be interpreted as such. He was loathe to stand idly by at the alternative, that what he himself termed as "nine hot shot lawyers" would decide the law of the land for everyone else, rather than allow the delicate balance of a legislative body to make law as intended, an executive body to sign it into law as intended, and for the judicial body merely to interpret the law as intended. His own intention was to impede progress unchecked by process, not as an exercise of oligarchy, but as an assurance that the people never have their rightful place in a republican democracy taken away from them by judicial fiat. Indeed, it was within the confines of the venue to which he was so dedicated, that he feared would be the epicenter of tyranny. He could observe the signs, and devoted that life to warning his well-learned and well-intentioned but unsuspecting colleagues.

This point of view, one with which even James Madison himself as "Father of the Constitution," would surely agree, has threatened the cabal of social engineers who hold court of their own in both academia and the mainstream media today. This may be why some conservative would-be pundits suspected foul play in his death, suspicious of the close friend of the justice, a local judge and alleged Democratic supporter, who ruled against conducting an autopsy. And yet such was also at the insistence of the family, all of them possessed with a healthy dose of both political incorrectness and intellectual astuteness.

VIDEO: From September 2010. The US Supreme Court's Antonin Scalia discusses his public and private life in a remarkably candid interview with Lesley Stahl (Part Two).

The allegations also fail to take into account the detail of United States Marshals who usually accompany a member of the high court for such occasions, as well as that the late justice was nearly eighty, and a chain smoker for much of his adult life. I can still remember him in the church basement at Old Saint Mary's in DC, following the Sunday morning Latin Mass, in one particular smoke-filled corner of that room, with his usual posse of fellow-curmudgeons; the writer Gary Potter, my old friend journalist Ann Sheridan, among others. I was always told to address him properly as "Justice." To them, he was simply "Judge Scalia."

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In more recent years, he was a regular attendant at the Latin Mass at Saint John the Beloved Church in McLean, Virginia, while I was the Senior Master of Ceremonies there. He came to Mass alone. His wife of over fifty years did not join him. It was said that she preferred the "ordinary form" of the Mass, which would have been one of the few things in which they did not agree. He sat in the back pew, sang the hymns and the Kyriale, and received communion reverently. We would shake hands outside after church, and he and I would exchange pleasantries; about the weather, the music, the homily (or what he might have considered to have been Father's inaccurate use of Latin at said homily), whatever came to mind. Among his four daughters and five sons, one of the latter is a priest of the diocese, whom the Justice always addressed as "Father Paul" (and whom his grandchildren addressed as "Uncle Father").

VIDEO: From April 2014. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg join journalist/scholar Marvin Kalb to offer their views of the US Constitution in a rare glimpse behind the gavel and inside one of our nation's vital branches of government.

There was an article in The Washington Post in April of 2014, authored by a retired colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, which proposed "fixing" the Second Amendment, the one that guaranteed the right to bear arms. The 2008 decision upholding the ruling in favor of its original intent (namely District of Columbia vs Heller) was a significant victory for Scalia and those who ruled with him. I knew that he didn't read the Post, but I thought he might like to know of the article, as Stevens had written the minority opinion in that case. And so, in spite of my suspicion that he eschewed "talking shop" at church, much less with one not schooled in the law, I brought it to his attention. His first reaction was to chastise me for ever reading the Post to begin with, to which I assured him that I mainly used it for the TV schedule, as well as the "funnies." He seemed to appreciate my understanding of the Militia Act of 1903, upon which the definition of a state's "unorganized militia" was based, thus confirming the original understanding of how the right to self-defense manifested itself in American jurisprudence. We both agreed that even the most distinguished of jurists might do well to read decent books on a subject. And that was that.

On the Sunday following the High Court's decision on same-sex marriage, I saw that he looked tired, even defeated. I couldn't be sure why, and I dared not ask. In fact, I can't say I had the honor of knowing him all that well, never mind that we traveled in the same circles. But I knew him best for one moment, one Sunday morning, when if only for that moment, we were not strangers, but colleagues -- dare I say it, fellow curmudgeons. That is what I will remember the most.

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One might remember him otherwise as well. In 2008, Justice Scalia, along with legal author/lecturer Bryon Garner, published a book entitled Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. It covers the essentials of the sound reasoning that underlies an argument, as well as the art of brief writing, especially what to include or omit, inducing the judge to focus mainly on the arguments. It was Father Paul Scalia, his son, who once told me that it would be a good text for priests and seminarians to read as well. This is a point well taken, as many of the same principles covered by such a book can lay the groundwork for an explanation of the Faith, and if need be, its defense. It could be the perfect gift for that young seminarian preparing to face the world -- in it, and yet not of it.

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In the 1972 children's book Watership Down, authored by Richard Adams and made popular as an animated film in 1978 by Martin Rosen, a warren of rabbits is searching for a home safe from their enemies. At the end of the tale, having reached their safe haven, we find their leader, Hazel, near the end of his life, resting and watching his warren prosper. He hears a voice in the distance, that of the Black Rabbit of Inlé, the grim reaper and servant of the sun god Frith.

Black Rabbit: Hazel? You know me, don't you?

Hazel: I don't.

[The visitor reveals himself as The Black Rabbit.]

Hazel: Oh, yes, my Lord ... I know you.

Black Rabbit: I've come to ask if you would like to join my Owsla [clan of warriors]. We shall be glad to have you, and I know you'd like it. You've been feeling tired, haven't you? If you're ready, we might go along now.

[Hazel pauses to look back at his rabbits.]

Black Rabbit: You needn't worry about them. They'll be alright, and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean.

It is then that the soul of Hazel leaves his weary body behind, in the company of his spirit-guide, “running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.”

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“All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies ... be cunning, and your people will never be destroyed.”

May the soul of our brother Antonin make its way to its Eternal Destination. May those who gave ear to his voice carry on his work, for we shall not see his like again.

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UPDATE: The late Justice Scalia will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Friday. The funeral will be held at 11:00am on Saturday, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington DC, as already reported by various media outlets.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

“C’mon, take me to the Mardi Gras ...”

“... where the people sing and play / Where the dancing is elite / And there's music in the street / Both night and day.”

There goes "Rhymin' Simon" again, in a live recording of his 1973 hit on Columbia Records. Meanwhile, this being the last day of merriment before the Great Fast (aka Lent), I am reminded of another Mardi Gras from so many years ago ...

Babes in Boyland

And so it goes.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Candlemas Day (or, why Punxatawney Phil is a Catholic)

“When the days
were completed
for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus
up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written
in the law of the Lord,
Every male that
opens the womb
shall be consecrated
to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice
of a pair of turtledoves
or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”

(Luke 2:22-24)

Today, both the Eastern and Western churches observe the Feast of the Purification of Mary (known as "Candlemas" in the West), exactly forty days after Christmas. In some traditions, the Christmas season officially ends with this day, and preparation for Lent can begin, which includes the "Carnival" season in much of South America. But today, throughout the Catholic world, the faithful will process in and around their churches bearing lighted candles, which are blessed for the coming year.

The origin of this feast is described in detail, in this excerpt from the classic work of Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, entitled The Liturgical Year.

The mystery of today's ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists, dating from the 7th century. According to Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee, always considered as the emblem of virginity, signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, who diminished not, either by His conception or His birth, the spotless purity of His Blessed Mother. The same holy bishop would have us see, in the flame of our Candle, a symbol of Jesus who came to enlighten our darkness. St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the same mystery, bids us consider three things in the blessed Candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virginal bee, is the Flesh of our Lord; the wick, which is within, is His Soul; the flame, which burns on top, is His divinity.

In addition, Duncan Maxwell Anderson of HMS Blog provides guidance on customs of the season, as well as suggestions for family celebrations. Included are some fun facts about the real origins of Groundhog Day:

In Catholic Europe, they say that if Candlemas is clear and bright, there will be six more weeks of winter. In Germany, this idea became, "If the bear comes out and sees his shadow, he will grumpily go back into his cave, and winter will last another six weeks."

Then this feat of prediction was ascribed to German badgers.

And since badgers are not found in the eastern U.S., German immigrants to this country were obliged to depend for meteorological guidance on a species of marmot called by the Indians 'weejak' or woodchuck, also called ... the groundhog.

Today, if Punxatawney Phil sticks his nose out, you tell me if he isn't carrying a candle-holder. He's Catholic, you know.

You just can't argue with reasoning like that, don't you think?

Or don't you?