Saturday, January 10, 2009
****Following is a slightly expanded remembrance of Father Neuhaus which appeared in today's Wall Street Journal****

On April 11, 2005, I entered St. Peters Basilica in Rome with my friend Father Richard John Neuhaus to pay our respects to the recently deceased Pope John Paul the II. After kneeling before the pontiffs body, as we left the basilica, I remarked at how small the pope appeared. That wasnt him. He isnt there, I said. No, Father Richard said pinching fresh tears from his eyes. He is there. These are the remains, what is left behind of a life such as we are not likely to see again, waiting with all of us for the resurrection of the dead, the final vindication of the hope he proclaimed. As was his wont, Father Richard John Neuhaus was capable of delivering impromptu corrections with an eloquence and precision that would elude the best of us. When I learned of his passing yesterday at the age of 72, his words echoed in my memory. He was not only a great intellectual and an exemplary man of letters, but as his remark to me illustrates, he put his mind and his art at the service of Mother Church and the truths she protected. He was firstly and lastly a man animated by his faith.

Richard Neuhaus was born in Pembroke, Ontario and like his father, he would become a Lutheran priest. He eventually pastored a large black congregation in Brooklyn and in the 1960s and 1970s became a leader in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Of his work with Martin Luther King, Neuhaus wrote: (God) used his most unworthy servant Martin to create in our public life a luminous moment of moral truth about what Gunnar Myrdal rightly called the America dilemma, racial justice. It seems a long time ago now, but there is no decline in the frequency of my thanking God for his witness and for having been touched, however briefly, by his friendship, praying that he may rest in peace, and that his cause may yet be vindicated.

Where faith and his hatred for injustice led him to liberal activism, it would soon lead him away from it. In the wake of the Supreme Courts Rowe v. Wade decision in 1973, Neuhaus left what he called the movement and started down a new more conservative path.

In 1984, Neuhaus penned his landmark work, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. It was an intellectual challenge to the trend of eradicating religious symbols and thought from the public square. He warned of a state that drives out prophetic religion and established a monopoly on public space and public meanings. That is the circumstance referred to as the naked public square. Which, as we must never tire of recalling, does not remain naked but is taken over by the pseudo-religion established by state power.

His searing prose and well-reasoned arguments, infused with their own prophetic power, would attract legions of admirers in the media, government, and among religious leaders of various denominations.

US News and World Report in 1988 called Father Neuhaus one of the most influential intellectuals in America. In 1990, Neuhaus established First Things: the Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life. Within its pages Evangelical, Jewish, Orthodox, and Catholic intellectuals contended with the primary issues facing America and the worldissues of faith and their intersection with public policy. Father Neuhaus authored more than twenty books and influenced a generation. And though he would go on to enjoy a series of presidential appointments in the Carter, Reagan and first Bush administration, Neuhaus never lost sight of his role as a priest. He would write: "Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion." In 1990 he converted to Catholicism and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Cardinal John OConnor. Along with Chuck Colson he led an ecumenical initiative entitled Catholics and Evangelicals Together. It sought to underscore the unity of belief enjoyed by these diverse communities while soberly confronting the doctrine and practice that divided them.

Father Neuhaus was also an unofficial advisor to John Paul II on everything from ecumenism to democracy. His influence upon President George W. Bushs policies on stem cell research and abortion is not insignificant either (welcomed in life, protected in law was Neuhaus line). For me personally, Father Neuhaus will forever be attached to the election of Benedict the XVI and his journey to America in early 2008. Father Neuhaus was my co-host for EWTNs live coverage of those events, providing commentary that was erudite and occasionally cutting. When I announced to our viewers that the Pope would be meeting with the American bishops in the crypt of National Basilica in Washington, Neuhaus quipped: A fitting repository for the American Episcopacy. He had humor and wit and such eloquence. But when one steps back and looks at the turns of Father Richard Neuhaus life: his active engagement of those first things that really matter, his willingness to forsake friendships and old alliances to pursue the truthhis faith emerges once more. At the end, and all along, Richard Neuhaus was willing to obey the fitful promptings of his faith. May they now lead him to the One he has long served. Godspeed my friend.

*****PROGRAMMING NOTE: This week's World Over will salute the life and legacy of Father Neuhaus. I will be joined by theologians George Weigel and Michael Novak, as well as editor of First Things, Joseph Bottum. The program encores at 4PM Sunday, 10AM and 11PM Monday. All times are Eastern*******

Let me know what you think: raymond@raymondarroyo.com

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