The Corner

The Most Important Thing to Remember about Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

It was mentioned at his vigil Monday night that just about all the media stories about Fr. Neuhaus missed one big thing: the center of his entire life. His transition from left to right, his position on civil rights and Vietnam — these were all born out of what he believed his duty was in following Christ. For him, “It was not a matter of choosing political sides but of following Jesus Christ.” In this way, the homilist Monday night, Father Leonard Klein, said, “the Left broke with him,” when it embraced nihilism.

The homilist at his beautiful funeral celebration at Immaculate Conception church here in New York City ran with a similar point yesterday: “This is not the time to talk about the rich literary” legacy of RJN. We gather, Fr. Raymond de Souza said, “to bury a Christian disciple, not a public figure.” Neuhaus saw the altar — the Eucharist — as the center of all life and death. And that’s what’s important to know about him. He worked to bring this to the public square. But it is faith that brought him there in the first place. And if you’re of faith and you lose that perspective, go back to the center, or you’re no good to the public square.

Another priest wrote in his dicocesan paper of Neuhaus:

I asked him his secret for being so prodigious a reader and writer. His response I took initially as a non-sequitur, until I had a chance to reflect on it more and put it into practice. His secret, he told me, was to make sure he did his morning prayer before he began to read the newspaper. Once he had put God first and received his help for the day, he could then get to the work God was asking him to do with greater concentration. God seemed to multiply his efforts.

One of our mutual friends, who was with him to the end, told me that as his mental capacities were beginning to shut down, the one thing he continued to do lucidly was to pray his breviary.

I know of at least one person who fled Washington after hearing a warning like that from Fr. Neuhaus, during a speech years and years ago. He made it back, faith enriched, priorities straight, on the road to where a Christian wants to be in the eternal end.

That’s not to say that we pretend that RJN was perfect — he was a devoted disciple, but human! We prayed yesterday that he will be forgiven for his sins. We prayed for mercy. And we prayed in gratitude for a good model of how to make a faithful way in the world.


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