Posted by FatherTim at 8/7/2009 8:37 PM EDT
Today's confirmation by the U.S. Senate of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the nation's highest court is a day for the record books, or history books, or religious books -- or some sort of book. Or not.
For the first time in history, there are six Catholics on the nine-member Supreme Court -- not just a majority, but what some have called a "supermajority."
In case you're not keeping score, and I doubt anybody is, Sotomayor will join fellow Catholic Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Sclia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts. (Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens are, respectively, Jewish, Episcopalian and Protestant.)
Once upon a time in America, this probably would have mattered, and mattered a great deal.
Both the campaign and tragically short Presidency of John F. Kennedy were rife with speculation about how "the Pope will be running the country," and this was not merely from the "lunatic fringe," but from educated and respected commentators.
To address fears that his Catholicism would impact his decision-making, he famously told a Texas group in 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters -- and the Church does not speak for me."
Exit-polling was not nearly as advanced then as it is today, but it certainly would have been interesting to know what role Kennedy's religion played in his narrow victory over Richard Nixon.
But 2009 is a long way from 1961, the year Kennedy took office, and the United States, Catholicism and especially the influence religion exerts in people's lives have all radically changed. This last point is the BIG one.
In the United States, as in the world, the "believers" outnumber the agnostics and atheists by a margin so large you couldn't reach it in the space shuttle. Belief in God -- and he goes by many names -- or some Higher Power is incredibly strong, as is the way most people believe Him to be: all-loving, all-knowing, merciful, just, and present in some significant way in our daily lives on earth. Indeed, God's "characteristics" are remarkable in their uniformity from remote tribes to major religions and from the distant past to the present. As "A Course in Miracles" states so well, "His Loving Memory is written in every mind and His Name is written in every heart."
We all know Him.
But while belief in "spirituality," a spiritual aspect to our lives, is strong -- it no longer has the direct connection to organized religion it once had, and this is particularly true of Catholicism. There are many people who consider themselves "good Catholics" who disagree with many of the Church's teachings. Sometimes called "cafeteria Catholics" because they seem to pick the teachings they agree with, many nonetheless are spiritually-minded people who live their lives by the Example set by Our Lord, Jesus Christ -- and who are indeed very good people. I have many dear friends and family members who fit this description quite well, and know of many more -- and I am sure that Our Heavenly Father loves them with the same changeless and unchangeable love that is the birthright of His entire Creation.
Even if I don't always see them at Mass!
The ongoing tragedy of clergy abuse of children that has been unfolding in Ireland is perhaps the widest schism between "spirituality" and "religion" that I can think of. By the thousands, many people of great faith have left the Church and feel utter contempt for it -- which I am sad to say is entirely of the Church's monstrous making. Yet, they guide their lives by many of the lessons they have learned and by the Inner Voice That always speaks to us -- the God inside us. Organized religion -- whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or any denomination -- never was His Home. We -- all of us -- are His Home. Religion is an expression of the God within us as a community of faithful, and can serve a noble and needed role. But God is not owned by any of them; they are the creations of man.
To be a Christian is to believe that all is as it should be, that God's Will is always done despite what we may see as darkness and tragedy. Jesus' Own Life -- as well as His "death" and Resurrection -- was and is a perfect example of God's Will. So, if some people are moving away from "organized religion" and toward a more-personal relationship with God or a unique understanding of Him and the Teachings of His Son, then this too must be God's Will. It does not mean that evil is good and that wrong is right. It only means His Will Be Done.
Which is all a (very) long way of saying that six Catholics on the Supreme Court is probably about as significant as six judges with brown eyes on the Court.
God's Final Judgment is the only judgment that matters, as is how well we love in our short time on earth -- as He does, with Perfection.
May God bless you all!
-- Father Tim
The Irish pub that became home base for 9/11 ground zero rescuers