The great man succumbed to the cancer he was suffering, yesterday. He was 72 years old.
Richard Neuhaus was born in Pembroke, Ontario, in 1936. 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 antiwar movements. Of his work with Martin Luther King Jr., he once wrote that 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 Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, he left what he called “the movement” and started down a new, more conservative path.
Father Neuhaus converted to Catholicism in 1990, and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Cardinal John O’Connor.
I got to know him as a reader of his excellent journal, First Things which I subscribed to for years. If you read anything of length today, read his recounting of his near death experience, Born Toward Dying, from when he was first diagnosed with colon cancer. It was published in Feb. 2000. A snippet:
It was a couple of days after leaving intensive care, and it was night. I could hear patients in adjoining rooms moaning and mumbling and occasionally calling out; the surrounding medical machines were pumping and sucking and bleeping as usual. Then, all of a sudden, I was jerked into an utterly lucid state of awareness. I was sitting up in the bed staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat. What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two “presences.” I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that. But they were there, and I knew that I was not tied to the bed. I was able and prepared to get up and go somewhere. And then the presences—one or both of them, I do not know—spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: “Everything is ready now.”
That was it. They waited for a while, maybe for a minute. Whether they were waiting for a response or just waiting to see whether I had received the message, I don’t know. “Everything is ready now.” It was not in the form of a command, nor was it an invitation to do anything. They were just letting me know. Then they were gone, and I was again flat on my back with my mind racing wildly. I had an iron resolve to determine right then and there what had happened. Had I been dreaming? In no way. I was then and was now as lucid and wide awake as I had ever been in my life.
Nearly ten years later, he was ready.
He’ll be missed by many.
Hat tip: The Anchoress