Barrett’s name is once again in consideration, as President Trump said he would announce on Saturday his nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the same line from her 2006 speech has been the focus of several media profiles.
Matthew Franck, a lecturer in politics at Princeton University and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, told CNA on Tuesday that Barrett’s reference to the “Kingdom of God” had nothing to do with building a theocracy or proselytizing.
“Anyone who reads into this that Judge (then Professor) Barrett wants them to pursue ‘the kingdom of God’ in the sense of some political project just isn’t interested at all in what she actually said,” Franck told CNA.
The full text of Barrett’s 2006 speech aims to convey Notre Dame Law graduates are distinct.
At the beginning of her speech, Barrett asked graduates "what does it even mean to be a different kind of lawyer in the Notre Dame tradition?"
“One way” Notre Dame Law graduates could distinguish themselves is to “always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end,” and “that end is building the kingdom of God,” Barrett said.
She advised graduates against treating their careers as ends in themselves, letting “ambition,” or “satisfaction, prestige, or money” guide their career decisions. She advised graduates to prayerfully discern job opportunities, tithe, and try to make friends with a similar faith wherever they move.
Theology professor Jacob Wood of the Franciscan University of Steubenville said that Barrett was not talking about any theocratic political project, but “was simply restating the teaching of Vatican II that the Kingdom of God is built up any time Catholics join with fellow citizens of any faith or none to work for the common good of our society.”
Such an effort, he said, “is at the heart of what it means to be a lay Catholic,” but is also “the very first thing a new justice promises to uphold when she or he takes the oath of office.”
Barrett’s comments, Wood told CNA, speak to the power of God’s grace in human affairs--and to the tragedy of Catholics in public life who do not bring their faith into the public square.
Grace, he said, “presupposes, perfects, and empowers what we do as individuals and a society, by healing all of our cultural and political endeavors from sins that make them less than human, less than fair, and less than just, and restoring them to the basic goodness that God intended for them from the beginning.”
Many Catholics, however, overlook this and are “abdicating” their vocation to holiness.
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For those who do bring their faith into the public square, he said, “politics and culture have nothing to fear from faith, and everything to gain,” as grace would empower a judge to serve “with a justice and fairness which is more powerful than ideology or political party.”
“Our nation desperately needs that justice and the peace it brings right now,” he said.
Incoming Supreme Court justices take an oath to uphold the Constitution as well as a second oath—or a combination of the two. In their oath, justices must swear to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”
This pledge to uphold justice, Wood said, is also part of the call of Catholics working for the common good.
Furthermore, Wood said, those who argue that Barrett might promote some kind of theocracy or would proselytize from the bench “are often trying to distract us from the real issue at hand.”
This issue, he said, is the imposition “by judicial fiat of beliefs about human life, gender, and marriage upon our nation that are contrary to the natural moral law which is present in the heart of every person.”