Humility in Power (Update: 10/2/02, 10:21 am)

c-thomas.jpg

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (left in photograph as a seminarian) has just published a book, My Grandfather’s Son. Earlier today he was interviewed by Rush Limbaugh. He seems like the real deal. He has the Litany of Humility on his wall in his office in the Supreme Court. It is a chivalrous thing to act as though power held is a service of others rather than a tool to control others.

JUSTICE THOMAS: Well, first, Rush, the job itself was certainly something I never thought that would be a problem to do. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be able to decide the cases.

RUSH: You never thought it would be too hard a job?

JUSTICE THOMAS: Oh, no. No. It’s been a long trip from Pinpoint to here; and along the way, you learn lessons that people who have a much easier path never learn. So it was not something that I thought would be too difficult to do. When I first got to the court, Justice Powell was still there, and, of course, he had retired and was still in the court itself, and he had a conversation with me during one of our many chats, and he said that, “Once you think that you belong at the court, it’s time for you to leave.” I agree with that. I think that in these jobs, you have to remember that the job, the Constitution, the work we do is important, but we’re just human beings. That was the attitude that Justice White had and so many of those who went before me. I think humility is very important in doing these jobs. It’s not about us. I keep on the wall in my office — and my favorite prayer is — The Litany of Humility. You really don’t want to get caught up in what people say, negative or positive. You’re there, you took an oath, and, as I said to my clerks, “I took an oath to God, not an oath to be God.” We’re there to do our jobs as judges. I’m a judge. I have a limited role, and I stick within that role.

RUSH: Could you describe it? What is that role? In your view of your role as a judge, a justice, what is that?

JUSTICE THOMAS: My role is to interpret the Constitution, when it’s a constitutional case and a case or controversy. It’s to interpret a statute. It is not to impose my policy views or my personal views on your Constitution, our Constitution, or on your laws. It’s not my private preserve to work out these theories, and I guard very, very diligently against doing that. I think a part of being able to stay within the confines of that limited role, one has to be humble about one’s — a judge has to be humble about his — own approach and what his capacities are. Before I start the term, and certainly in many, many cases, I had a little prayer that I used to say years ago when I was at EEOC: “Lord, grant me the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it.” So I also think that, in addition to wisdom or humility, you need the courage to do what is right. If the answer is something that is difficult or that will lead to criticism, you still have to do it, if it’s right. It’s your oath. So that’s, in a nutshell, my approach to the job.

Here is the Litany of Humility written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Vatican Secretary of State under Pope Saint Pius X:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart,
Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,provided that I may become as holy as I should…

The stuff real men are made of.

Update:

A question has been raised as to whether Justice Thomas declares that he is not Catholic in a recent New York Sun interview. In his book and in his Limbaugh interview yesterday, he makes it pretty clear that after he left the seminary and entered the university he became a radical. He also says he lost his faith. He is, in fact, quite frank about the mistakes he made.

Thomas married, divorced and remarried outside the Church. In the 1990’s he had his first marriage annulled. He is most certainly a practicing Catholic. Just a little research on the internet will clear the problem up. Even Wikipedia is clear on the matter.

One thought on “Humility in Power (Update: 10/2/02, 10:21 am)

  1. Thy Kingdom Come!

    A concluding collect sometimes added to the litany is as follows:

    Lord Jesus, though you were God, you humbled yourself to the extreme of dying on a cross, to set an enduring example to the shame of my arrogance and vanity. Help me to learn your example and put it into practice so that, by humbling myself in accordance with my lowliness here on earth, you can lift me up to rejoice in you forever in heaven. Amen.

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