Father Neuhaus called home

January 11th, 2009
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Religion is a subject that we rarely broach here but, given that last week saw the passing of a figure like Richard John Neuhaus, it is worth revisiting. It’s all the more important given that much of Father Neuhaus’ later life was devoted to affirming the necessary place of religion in public life.

Father Neuhaus’ life has been much summarized in the many obituaries – listed here – so there is little reason for repetition here. It is worth mentioning that he was born in Canada, his father a Lutheran minister in the Ottawa Valley; became prominent in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s and Pastor of a low-income congregation in Brooklyn, New York. It was with the publication of The Naked Public Square – a criticism of the secularization of public discourse – that he became a prominent political commentator.

After the Roe v. Wade decision he gradually moved rightward politically and became a major voice in the conservative movement. As such he will be greatly missed. His conversion, in the late 1980’s, to Catholicism, could itself be the subject of a long discussion.

First Things, the journal he founded in the 1990’s, is often challenging reading, but in the best sense of the word. It is a must read for those wishing to expand their intellectual (and spiritual) horizons, especially if you do little other religious-related reading. FT’s  best pages were often Neuhaus’ own monthly comments; ten to twenty pages of incisive, entertaining and often funny observations about modern life. Sadly, we won’t have any more of these to inform and uplift us.

Most refreshing was his confidence to speak on any topic without a veneer of politically correctness. Just one example is his comments on such a currently peculiar subjects as “manliness” and what makes a “manly man”. You can watch it here.

There are too few such eloquent voices today, so our loss is palpable; and that less than a year after the passing of William F. Buckley. A great challenge indeed to those left behind. The phrase “called home” is perhaps used too tritely in obituaries, but in the case of Father Neuhaus it well describes his final journey.

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By John Weissenberger