Requiescat in pace.
Many of you know that Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has recently been hospitalized due to the onset of an undisclosed form of cancer. As of this afternoon, it is being reported that he is near death. From Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review:
His friends and family are keeping vigil and he was administered last rites shortly after midnight. Fr. George Rutler, who gave him the Catholic Sacrament, says that “he is not expected to live long” and suggests “that it is appropriate that prayers be offered for a holy death.”
Fr. Neuhaus has come close to this moment before and been back. If it’s his time: Go in peace. He’s a man who has loved and served His Lord. When he leaves this world, his vast intellectual and spiritual body of work will have a long life here.
Speaking of his archives: Fr. Neuhaus might agree with his brother priest on the appropriate prayer for him. Fr. Neuhaus might say, if he could right now, what he’s already written:
“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.
Death is the most everyday of everyday things. It is not simply that thousands of people die every day, that thousands will die this day, although that too is true. Death is the warp and woof of existence in the ordinary, the quotidian, the way things are. It is the horizon against which we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and the next morning we awake to find the horizon has drawn closer. From the twelfth-century Enchiridion Leonis comes the nighttime prayer of children of all ages: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.’ Every going to sleep is a little death, a rehearsal for the real thing.”
I’m taken aback by this development. I’ve subscribed to First Things since 1991. When I pick up a new issue, I always go straight to the The Public Square and While We’re At It, the last section of the magazine which has been aptly described as “the first blog” preceding the internet phenomenon. Having read every one of these treasures for the last 17 years, along with countless articles and a book, Fr. Neuhaus now seems like an old friend, a mentor.
Though I’ve never met the man, I am sure that his influence on my thinking has been much greater than I have heretofore realized. I have caught myself unconsciously imitating this erudite priest’s style of writing. Without a doubt, his journal was one of many subtle influences behind my own conversion to the Catholic Faith. His Lutheran-to-Catholic journey cleared the path for my own and many others.
God bless you, Fr. Neuhaus! If it be the Lord’s will, may you come back to us soon! But I will do as Fr. Rutler asks and pray for a happy and holy death. I ask my readers to do the same.