The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sad News: Richard John Neuhaus

We lost a remarkable man yesterday. Father Richard John Neuhaus went home to the Father at the age of 72. We will miss him.

Fr. Neuhaus was so many things, all of which he did so very well. Social activist, intellectual, brilliant writer and editor, uncompromising advocate for life, ecumenist, EWTN commentator -- he was all these things, but he was above all a priest and a man of faith.

I met Father Neuhaus only once, perhaps ten years ago, when he addressed a Diocese of Fall River pro-life conference held at North Dartmouth., Massachusetts. I spoke with him only briefly, for maybe five minutes, but consider myself greatly honored to have had that opportunity to meet him and thank him for his prophetic words and moral guidance. As you might expect, he was very kind and actually seemed interested in what I had to say.

But my first encounter with Father Neuhaus was through his writings, primarily through First Things, the journal he founded along with its predecessor. (That was so long ago I can't recall the name of the earlier journal.) Since then he has been my companion and, more often than not, my guide in things political, cultural, moral and ecumenical. Indeed, just the other day, in a conversation with a friend, I remarked that if I were suddenly impoverished and had to cancel all my many subscriptions, I could do so easily...except for one: First Things. I need my monthly Richard Neuhaus fix, not to mention all the other knowledgeable and stimulating writers whose work populates the pages of First Things. Through those pages I was introduced to R. R. Reno, Robert Wilken, David Bentley Hart and many others who have had such a positive influence on the development of my own thinking. And through his journal Father Neuhaus also provided the perfect venue for the theological commentary of Avery Cardinal Dulles, America's greatest theologian. And now, in the space of less than one month, we have lost both of these remarkable men. (Cardinal Dulles died on December 12.)

Father Neuhaus, who had earlier experienced the nearness of death, was comfortable with the inevitability of the end of this life. The following quote is from his article, "Born Toward Dying," originally published in the February 2000 issue of First Things.

"We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word “good” should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good.

"Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent."

This is perhaps the best thing we can say in tribute to Father Neuhaus: He lived well and he died well. May he rest in the peace of the Father's embrace.

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