There is good reason, then, for confidence that this giant of American jurisprudence will not be deprived of an eternal reward. But still the suddenness of his passing, in a guest room during a weekend hunting trip far from his family, shocks us. We are reminded of the fleeting quality of this life and how even the greatest of figures in the affairs of men, whose decisions affect the course of human history, have no claim to even one second more than the time that God has allotted them. And once that time has ended, their dynamic presence in the world, which seemed positively inexhaustible and irrepressible, ends suddenly and forever.
The chair behind the desk in the Supreme Court chambers where Justice Scalia once toiled and pondered weighty issues of law is now empty, where only days before it had held one of the world’s most influential men. The law clerks who were honored to work for him are suddenly without an employer. The cases in which his vote would have been decisive are now in suspense as America awaits the new Justice who will replace the fallen one as if he had never lived and breathed upon this earth.
And so it is for each of us in our own much smaller circles of influence. When our time has come we will disappear not only from our families but also from the scenes of our familiar presence, where we were always expected the next day, the next week, the next year. “For all flesh is as grass; and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass is withered, and the flower thereof is fallen away (1 Peter 1:24).”
We can only pray for the grace of enough time to contemplate our approaching end rather than to have it come upon us without warning. Such a grace was given to the traditional Catholic writer Mario Palmaro, dying of liver cancer, whose final interview is a sobering spiritual lesson for us all:
The greatest suffering I experience is the idea of having to leave this world which I am so fond of and is so beautiful even if also so tragic; of having to leave many friends and relatives; but most of all, of having to leave my wife and children who are still at a tender age.
Sometimes I imagine my home, my empty study, and the life that will continue there even if I am no longer present. It is a scene that hurts, but it is extremely realistic: it makes me realize what a useless servant I have been, and that all the books I have written, the conferences and articles, are nothing but straw. But my hope is in the mercy of the Lord, and in the fact that others will pick up part of my aspirations and battles and will continue on in “the ancient duel.”
As John Paul II admitted, following the Second Vatican Council there was a loss of a “pastoral style” that was “profoundly personal” because it involved sermons that reminded each person that “at the end you will present yourself before God with your entire life. Before His judgment seat you will be responsible for all your actions, you will be judged not only on your actions and on your words but also on your thoughts, even the most secret.”
These sermons, John Paul further admitted, “stirred his conscience, they threw him to his knees, they led him to the screen of the confessional, they had a proving saving effect all their own.” But since the Council, the late Pope was forced to concede, “people have become insensitive to the Last Things” and “preachers, catechists, teachers… no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell.” Such is the crisis in the Church today, where we see “pardon,” eclipsing repentance, “mercy” eclipsing justice, and a Jesus who, contrary to the Creed, “never judges” but only loves all sinners “just as they are.”
Let the sudden passing of a great man, then, remind us of what Our Lady of Fatima warned in her Fourth Apparition: “Many souls go to Hell because they have no one to pray for them or make sacrifices for them.” Catholics everywhere should be praying for the repose of the soul of Antonin Scalia. Let not the diabolical confusion of our time obscure, for any of us, the realities of Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell that stand at the heart of the Message of Fatima, so shamefully neglected by the leaders of the Church in the midst of the worst crisis in her history.