Published January 8, 2009
The death of Father Neuhaus is a terrible blow. Not for him, who is now united with his Savior and his Redeemer, in whom Father Neuhaus placed all of his trust and all of his hope; but for us, who have lost one of America’s leading public intellectuals, a man of profound wisdom and learning, and a great champion for the unborn. It was Father Neuhaus, along with his dear, long-time friend George Weigel and just a handful of others like Michael Novak, who not only championed the pro-life cause for so many years, but who gave the rest of us both the grounding and the vocabulary to speak on this issue.
They made the pro-life cause the cause of those seeking justice and protection for the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human community.
Father Neuhaus was author of one of the most important, debate-changing books in the history of modern conservatism: The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (published in 1984). He penned many other books, before and after, and they were unfailingly intelligent, well-argued, elegantly written, and often moving. He was editor in chief of First Things and author of its very popular column “The Public Square,” Neuhaus’s monthly survey of religion, culture, and public life. And he was a central figure in finding common ground among Catholics and evangelicals. Father Neuhaus’s influence was quiet, profound, and virtually without boundaries. A former, very influential member of Congress wrote me just yesterday, saying, “When I first ran for Congress I read everything I could from him to formulate my thinking on social policy.”
Beyond his influence in our national life, Father Neuhaus was a wonderful and delightful man. Many knew him better than I, but what I did know of him led me to conclude he was an exceptional man. When I would travel to New York City while serving in the White House, I would make it a point to drop in to see Father Neuhaus, to benefit from his wisdom, to gain perspective, and to experience the joy of his company. I helped arrange to have him come to the White House, so others, including the President, might as well. Over the years he was always very kind and supportive of me. And I would always delight in receiving e-mails from him, often in response to something I had written, many times offering an insight which I wish I had thought of, and sometimes offering a gentle corrective.
I accepted every one of them.
Richard John Neuhaus was many things, and people will dilate on them in this space and in other places in the coming hours and days. But he was, above everything else, a man of faith who loved his church and loved his Lord. He served Him honorably and well all the days of his life.
In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis wrote,
How greatly I long for the dawning of this day, and the end of all worldly things. On the Saints this day already shines, resplendent with everlasting glory; but to us who are pilgrims on earth it appears but dim and distant. The citizens of Heaven now taste the joys of this day. Having excluded all worldly things from his heart and life, he will be worthy to take his place in the choir of Angels.
A few hours ago, Richard John Neuhaus went from being a pilgrim to becoming a citizen of Heaven, taking his place in the choir of Angels.
He is at peace; and they are now blessed to receive him.
— Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center