Justice Clarence Thomas: ‘I Am Decidedly and Unapologetically Catholic’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas urged graduates at Christendom College to hold fast to their Catholic faith — even when tempted to abandon it.
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas urged graduates at Christendom College to hold fast to their Catholic faith — even when tempted to abandon it.

Speaking during commencement at the Catholic college in Front Royal, Virginia, Thomas told the graduates, “This is a decidedly Catholic college, and I am decidedly and unapologetically Catholic,” a statement that was met with applause.

Thomas’s related remarks begin at the nine-minute mark in the video below:

“It is this faith that has been the guiding beacon during some difficult and seemingly hopeless times — even when I had turned my heart against it and turned my back on it,” the associate justice said. “And I have no doubt this faith will do the same for you if you let it, and, perhaps, even if you don’t.”

Thomas recounted his own struggles with the church.

“I was one of those headstrong youths,” he said. “I’m sure none of you is the way I was; none of you is headstrong. And, like most young people, I had bad judgment from time to time.”

The justice related a story about a young man, who often exercised bad judgment, who visited a wise older man about his problem.

“The wise man said, ‘Son, good judgment comes from experience, comes from having had bad judgment,’” Thomas recounted, then said, “Even as I’ve had bad judgment of youth, something kept me from going too far and helped me to learn from those experiences.”

“I spent 25 years of my life in the wilderness – away from the church – and yet the clarion call of Sunday church bells never went away,” he reflected. “Something restrained me. In those days of the 1960s and 70s, this inner restraint was called a ‘hang-up’ or an ‘inhibition.’ In fact, it was a conscience. A Catholic conscience that had been formed in a world much like this wonderful, wonderful college.”

Thomas urged the graduates not to view their faith as a “tether,” but as “a guide: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The associate justice fondly recounted his time spent as a child at St. Benedict’s Catholic School in Savannah, Georgia.

“As I near my 70th birthday, I think often of what Sister Mary Dolorosa taught us,” he said. “Since those days I have read much, learned much, and experienced a lifetime of ups and downs. I have studied theology, philosophy, history, and law. Yet, I have not come across a better statement of our purpose in life than what she taught us over six decades ago.”

As a young man, Thomas entered the seminary but left the church “confused” and “bitter” amid racial tensions in the country and then “crawled back as a middle-aged man, humbled by the realities of life and better able to appreciate God’s gift of faith.”

The associate justice noted that during his nearly 30 years’ tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court, he has been “mystified” that the late Justice Antonin Scalia and he grew up with “very different backgrounds” yet “agreed on so much and trusted each other implicitly. We saw so much the same way before I arrived at the Court in 1991.”

Thomas said Scalia’s son, Rev. Paul Scalia of the Diocese of Arlington, offered that it was their Catholic foundation that was their bond.

“Thank God that you live in this country and for His boundless love and grace that elevates us above our choices and our circumstances and ourselves,” he urged the graduates.

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