Father Paul Scalia is perhaps best known for the homily he gave at the funeral Mass for his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly last winter. Scalia has been a priest in the Arlington Diocese for more than 20 years and is author of a new book from Ignatius Press, That Nothing May Be Lost.
In the book, Scalia writes about the importance of the Church in proclaiming the authentic teachings of Jesus. He said Church scandals can make it harder to see why this is important.
He told Crux “people look at the Church in her human members and are challenged — scandalized — to believe that this community, with all its weaknesses and sins, is His Body.”
“We see the Church weighed down by human weakness: By sinfulness and mendacity even among her leaders,” Scalia said. “We are tempted to have the same response as those who saw our Lord in His suffering.”
The priest is also involved with Courage International, which helps people with same-sex attraction live according to the teachings of the Church.
“Courage is most of all about helping individual persons live chastity and strive for holiness,” Scalia told Crux. “We are aware of the broader political and cultural implications of this, but our mission is really and simply the care of souls.”
He spoke to Kathryn Jean Lopez about his new book, Jesus Christ, the paradoxes of faith, and the Courage ministry.
Lopez: The first two chapters of the book are “The Lord: Knowing and Loving Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Church: Knowing and loving the Body of Christ.” In what ways are these the same and yet dramatically different?
Scalia: The great spiritual writer, Dom Marmion, once observed that to know Jesus Christ we must not separate Him from His mystical Body — that is, from His Church. I think that one of the great errors of our time is precisely that, to drive a wedge between Christ and His Church.
To have Christ, but not to have to deal with the Church. Again, to be spiritual and not religious. So people want to be devoted to Jesus Christ, but without the Church He founded. In this arrangement, all the hard teachings come from the Church (meaning, of course, all the hard moral teachings) and the nice teachings (compassion, forgiveness, and of course tolerance) come from Jesus.
Never mind how painfully inaccurate this construction is (no one in the Bible speaks about hell more than Jesus), it also fails to understand how the words and life of Jesus come to us here and now. The Church is the continuing presence of Christ throughout the world and throughout history.
We know Him only because His Church continues to proclaim Him and to make Him present. Once we try to have Jesus without the Church we end up having only our own opinions about Jesus.
Of course, the greatest objection to all of this are the scandals that have plagued the Church. And they have done so in every age, not just our own. We are not the first ones to discover evils among Christ’s faithful, and even among His priests.
The outrages reported about priests rightly shock us. But at the same time they do not disprove the union of Christ and His Church. In fact, they should be understood in light of that union. Our Lord’s humanity was a scandal to many: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
They were scandalized to hear that this mere man (as he appeared) is God. Most especially in His Passion and death, when He was weighed down and disfigured by human weakness and wickedness, people looked and could not accept that He is God. And yet in His sufferings most of all He is our Savior.
So also people look at the Church in her human members and are challenged — scandalized — to believe that this community, with all its weaknesses and sins, is His Body. We see the Church weighed down by human weakness: By sinfulness and mendacity even among her leaders. We are tempted to have the same response as those who saw our Lord in His suffering.
But at those moments more than ever we should run, not away from but towards the Church to console our Lord in His Body — just as we would want to do if we came upon Christ Himself in His human weakness.
Why do there have to be paradoxes in faith, as another of the chapters addresses?
Paradoxes seem to be part of nature, don’t they? Our Lord used a natural paradox to explain both His own death and the demands of discipleship: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn 12:24-25). Only by death can there be life. This is foundational to all relationships: Only by dying to our own interests and egos can we actually have a friendship or marriage.
All learning rests on a similar paradox: Only by submitting to the instruction of another can we hope to increase in knowledge. This is as true for the child in kindergarten as for the doctoral student. Knowledge requires dying to our intellectual pride.
The wise man, as Socrates demonstrates, knows that he does not know. Faith is both a relationship and a way of knowing. If we want to have that life-giving relationship with God, we have to die to ourselves…sacrifice our egos. Likewise, if we want to grow in faith, we need to set aside our own estimation of things and trust in His word. If we want to know what He has to teach, we must first die to our intellectual pride.
One of your contributors is Father Paul Check, who, until recently was the executive director of Courage International. You yourself are involved in that organization.
What would you hope people might know of it? Why do you think it sometimes gets caricatured and controversial? Why is it needed and how might it help such difficult questions we face today about gender identity and sex and love and family, with so many personal relationship and cultural and policy implications?
Courage is most of all about helping individual persons live chastity and strive for holiness. We are aware of the broader political and cultural implications of this, but our mission is really and simply the care of souls. We desire to help people both understand and live the Church’s teaching on sexuality and particularly homosexuality.
This teaching always has value and importance, of course. The confusion today on matters not just of sexuality but about the human person in general make the teaching all the more important.
Yes, the current cultural climate unfortunately makes this a charged issue and can sometimes lead to false characterizations of Courage. What I would really desire people know about Courage is the witness of its members. The men and women in Courage who joyfully strive to live chastity are a great witness not just to the organization but, more importantly, to the life-giving quality of the Church’s teachings.
Do Catholic leaders spend an inordinate amount of time on these issues? Why does it sometimes seem that way, if not?
I am sure it seems to many people that the Church’s leaders give an inordinate amount of time to the issues of sexuality. Honestly, I think much of this has to do with what the press picks up and (relatedly) what piques people’s interest.
Issues of chastity will inevitably catch people’s attention more. And not because it has to do with sex but because it touches on the most profound dimensions of human relationships, of what it means to be human, to be a man or a woman, to be a father, mother, or child.
That said, the vast amount of a priest’s work is going to be on less “sexy” things. His main concerns are the simple ones: offering Mass, hearing confessions, teaching, visiting the sick and dying, etc.
These are the means by which grace comes to the soul and souls are brought to heaven. But for some reason people do not report these things. Unfortunately, people just are not as interested in such things as the Incarnation, the Eucharist, the indwelling of the Trinity, and so on.