Word has come, via First Things, that Father Richard John Neuhaus has died. I learned of his serious illness last night and since then have felt like a cat who falls and doesn’t land on all fours, disoriented, and very sad.
I remember the first time Father Neuhaus attacked me in print: I felt on top of the world. For a left-of-center person like me, being attacked by Father Neuhaus was a badge of honor. To gain the notice of someone with whom you disagree is much more flattering than to gain the praise of a mentor or an acolyte.
Neuhaus’s career, beginning as a leftie Lutheran and ending as a conservative Catholic (he passed Gary Wills going in the opposite direction some time in the early 1970s), made him a hero among his newly found ideological soulmates on the right: We Catholics love a convert. But, even those of us who stayed on the left developed an admiration for Neuhaus’s facility with the language, the self-evident sincerity of his convictions, and the sheer prolificness of his pen. He seemed to be always writing and whether you agreed with him or not, his writings were always worth the read, always provocative and always written with flair.
I never made Father Neuhaus’s acquaintance personally but a mutual friend once told me that if we were to break bread together we would soon be downing scotch and laughing with greater intensity than we had ever argued. I suspect that is right and look forward to a tumbler of single malt with him in the hereafter. In the meantime, and I am sure that for his closest friends and associates this is a very mean time, let us all say a prayer for Father Neuhaus’s friends and family and for those who cared for him in his final hours and for the repose of his soul. May perpetual light shine upon him.
Michael Sean Winters