When the family of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia finalized his funeral arrangements, their choice of a clergyman was undoubtedly unanimous. Paul Scalia, the sixth of Mr. and Mrs. Scalia’s nine children and thirty-five grandchildren, is a Catholic priest who serves the diocese of Arlington, Virginia, part of the Washington DC metroplex.

Antonin Scalia had always said that his funeral would be held in the little parish church he faithfully attended. But by the time his son Paul the Father led the funeral mass for Antonin his father on Saturday, February 13, the venue had been moved to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States, to accommodate the thousands who attended.

Because of one man

When Paul Scalia began his homily at the mega-mass, he showed himself to be his father’s true son by his creative and clever mind as well as his deep piety. The sermon began: “We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion.”

Suddenly Paul paused, with great effect, as in the silence thousands of minds reflected on these frequently-used descriptives of the departed Justice Antonin Scalia. Then Paul continued: “That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”

The audience listened, the pious and the profane, some spellbound and some bored, as the preacher declared with passion what the one, holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic church of Jesus Christ everywhere and always affirms: “It is he who 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.”

Catholics and Protestants agree

Scalia the son knew that even his beloved father did not merit or earn salvation. Indeed, he said, we are “giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.” But sinners will be saved, for God saved sinners. So to his audience that included many non-Christians, the preacher explained: “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 we give thanks that he died and rose for Dad.”

This is not mere theory, but calls for our response, Scalia concluded. “Every funeral reminds us of just how thin the veil is between . . . the opportunity for conversion and the moment of judgment. So we cannot depart here unchanged . . . We must allow this encounter with eternity to change us, to turn us from sin and towards the Lord.”

Standing at the very epicenter of a culture that preaches tolerance but would be pleased if everything distinctly Christian suddenly disappeared, in a day when gospel opportunities are regularly wasted through cowardice or compromise, and speaking to most of the highest dignitaries in the land, Mr. Scalia the son rose to the occasion with a boldness and clarity that we believe would be approved by his father who sat on the high court and by the Father in heaven who one day will judge us all.

Indeed, aside from a few expected references to the Mass and to Purgatory, two of many subjects about which Catholics and Protestants since the Refomation have gone their separate ways, the preacher in the Scalia family delivered a homily that was gospel gold.

To see the entire service, go to: