This morning I asked my daughter to go get a book off of her shelf and bring it to me so we could read together. Usually the request to my 16-month-old leads to such well-known books as “That’s Not My Bunny . . .” “Animal Noises,” or “Mommy and Me.”
This morning, she instead grabbed my latest copy of First Things, a journal about religion and public life. Knowing that editor Richard John Neuhaus was in poor health, my thoughts immediately went to him and how he was faring. Try as I might to get my daughter to read something else, she carefully paged through First Things from front to back. It was charming.
I soon got the word that Father Neuhaus had died and I’ve been mourning the loss all day. Today I think of him as a a great apologist for the sanctity of life, and an expert on religion in the public square. I first knew of him, however, as the very frustrating Lutheran pastor. With all due respect to his pastoral work in Brooklyn, he worked quite hard to liberalize the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He became much more conservative — and eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. You can read his Lutheran-influenced but Catholic understanding of justification here.
He never stopped reading Lutheran journals — you could regulary read in First Things his witty mentions of something Professor Scaer or other great Lutherans had written. And when my daughter was babysat by one of his employees last year — during which they prayed Vespers at the apartment complex shared by many in the First Things family, he assured me that they always did evening prayer out of The Lutheran Hymnal and under the watchful eye of his huge mural of Martin Luther. His office included work by Lutheran artists.
The first time he took up my work in the pages of First Things — a brief mention of a book review I’d written — it was a heady experience and I felt honored. He would drop me notes if I wrote something he felt particularly noteworthy and they were always brief and witty. He was funny and thought-provoking and one of the best writers I’ve ever read.
May he rest in peace. Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”