Saturday, December 25, 2021
From the first time that my University of St. Thomas offered a special Christmas Eve Mass at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, my wife, Mindy, and I have faithfully attended — other than last year during the depths of the pandemic. We were blessed to return last evening. Above is a photo I took last night of the wonderful Nativity Scene at the front of the chapel. Having seen hundreds of Nativity Scenes through the years, this is my favorite.
Last night, in looking at that depiction of the birth of Jesus, I was reminded of a story that the late Justice Antonin Scalia shared with a group of my faculty at the University of St. Thomas shortly before his death. As Justice Scalia had told this story to many others, including those on this list, I’m sure they could point out minor errors or omissions in my telling. But I’ll do my best and be true to my own recollection. And, as imperfect as it may be, I think it will serve the main point.
Justice Scalia was talking with us about how the University of St. Thomas School of Law took its Catholic identity seriously, as integrating the profession of law into the whole person of the faithful lawyer. He said the same had been true of Georgetown University, when he was an undergraduate student there.
As he approached graduation from Georgetown, the young Scalia had to pass an oral examination before a panel of professors in the history department. They peppered him with questions about historical events. And, as Scalia recalled it to us, “I was hitting the questions out of the park. I knew I was doing a great job.”
Finally, the chair of the department, a senior faculty member and Catholic priest, said, “we have one last question for you, Mr. Scalia. What was the most important event in human history?”
Scalia told us his thinking was, “I’ve got this. There is simply no wrong answer to this question. Any answer I give will be fine, as long as I provide a good argument for why the event I choose had a major impact on history.” He then proceeded to discuss the Battle of Waterloo and the dramatic effect that the defeat of Napoleon had on European history.
When he was finished, the chair of the department said, “No, Mr. Scalia, that is the wrong answer.”
The reverend chair continued: ”The most important event in human history was the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.”
And Scalia knew of course that he had been wrong. So wrapped had he been in showing his intellectual prowess on history that he had forgotten the most important thing of all. And, of course, we in the legal profession are particularly likely to mistakenly begin to think that what we are doing and saying about the law is the most important thing. It may well be an important thing. And it may be what God is calling us to do as professionals. But it is not the most important thing.
So my prayer for all of us today on Christmas is that we not only remember but truly feel the love of God in this season that should be joyful. Know that God cared so deeply for us that he sent his only Son to be incarnated into a human body, born of a poor family in a stable of animals and laid in a feeding trough. God bless us all today! Merry Christmas!