Richard John Neuhaus first came into my life at a seminar run by the Carnegie Council on Religion and International Affairs in about 1963, when I was a green graduate student at Harvard University, barely out of Catholic seminary. He seemed to me, even then, shrewd and wise and quite knowing about the ways of the world, especially about the religious world. He seemed to know everybody, from Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr. to leaders at Union Theological Seminary (still basking in the glow of being Reinhold Niebuhr’s longtime home) and the National Council of Churches up on Riverside Drive. He seemed to have made it a special point to consort with Catholic writers such as James Finn, with whom he was soon to be a joint editor at the council’s pungent journal of international politics Worldview , not to mention Bill Clancy, James O’Gara, and others.

The person who seemed at that time to be Pastor Richard’s best friend was Peter Berger (and his learned wife Brigitte), and many were the dinners the Bergers prepared at their home in Brooklyn (well, Brigitte prepared them, with her happy and effusive cheerfulness). What wonderful arguments and discussions there were around the Berger table; Brigitte jabbed and parried with all the rest. What good smoke from Peter and Richard’s favorite Dutch cigarillos circled over the armchairs and the laden dinner table. What wonderful jokes were told, gleaned from all over the world by dint of Peter’s international travels.

Both Peter and Richard were marvelous joke-tellers: Peter with his droll Viennese wit, Richard with his ability to mimic voices and to draw stories out until everyone nearly exploded with pent-up laughter”Richard always laughed the loudest, sometimes slapping his thigh.

Religion, politics, modernity, New York City Schools, the March in Selma, ecclesiastical and academic gossip, how to beat those threatening Republicans (Nixon, Rockefeller, and their ilk, not to mention Goldwater in 1964), Vatican II (whose first session had opened in 1962), ecumenism, and the Aperatura a Sinistra and Ostreich , the new foreign policy”these were among the urgent subjects of informational exchange and mutually critical debate. By 1965, the topic of greatest interest had become the war in Vietnam. As I recall, Peter was from the first the most skeptical, while Richard and I initially leaned toward Kennedy’s “bear any burden, pay any price” in the defense of freedom internationally.

Precise dates elude me now, but in about 1966 Richard and Peter saw to it that I was invited from Stanford to come to New York City to join the Board of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The idea had been Martin Luther King’s, at least officially, but Pastor Neuhaus was close to the arduous, difficult civil rights work being done in Bedford-Stuyvesant (the Movement was discovering that Northern neighborhoods had an entirely different, more hardened, multiethnic toughness than Southern cities) and it was my guess that Richard, as much as anybody, was the actual dynamo and idea man behind Clergy an

Richard John Neuhaus first came into my life at a seminar run by the Carnegie Council on Religion and International Affairs in about 1963, when I was a green graduate student at Harvard University, barely out of Catholic seminary. He seemed to me, even then, shrewd and wise and quite knowing about the ways of the world, especially about the religious world. He seemed to know everybody, from Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King Jr. to leaders at Union Theological Seminary (still basking in the glow of being Reinhold Niebuhr’s longtime home) and the National Council of Churches up on Riverside Drive. He seemed to have made it a special point to consort with Catholic writers such as James Finn, with whom he was soon to be a joint editor at the council’s pungent journal of international politics Worldview , not to mention Bill Clancy, James O’Gara, and others.

The person who seemed at that time to be Pastor Richard’s best friend was Peter Berger (and his learned wife Brigitte), and many were the dinners the Bergers prepared at their home in Brooklyn (well, Brigitte prepared them, with her happy and effusive cheerfulness). What wonderful arguments and discussions there were around the Berger table; Brigitte jabbed and parried with all the rest. What good smoke from Peter and Richard’s favorite Dutch cigarillos circled over the armchairs and the laden dinner table. What wonderful jokes were told, gleaned from all over the world by dint of Peter’s international travels.

Both Peter and Richard were marvelous joke-tellers: Peter with his droll Viennese wit, Richard with his ability to mimic voices and to draw stories out until everyone nearly exploded with pent-up laughter”Richard always laughed the loudest, sometimes slapping his thigh.

Religion, politics, modernity, New York City Schools, the March in Selma, ecclesiastical and academic gossip, how to beat those threatening Republicans (Nixon, Rockefeller, and their ilk, not to mention Goldwater in 1964), Vatican II (whose first session had opened in 1962), ecumenism, and the Aperatura a Sinistra and Ostreich , the new foreign policy”these were among the urgent subjects of informational exchange and mutually critical debate. By 1965, the topic of greatest interest had become the war in Vietnam. As I recall, Peter was from the first the most skeptical, while Richard and I initially leaned toward Kennedy’s “bear any burden, pay any price” in the defense of freedom internationally.

Precise dates elude me now, but in about 1966 Richard and Peter saw to it that I was invited from Stanford to come to New York City to join the Board of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The idea had been Martin Luther King’s, at least officially, but Pastor Neuhaus was close to the arduous, difficult civil rights work being done in Bedford-Stuyvesant (the Movement was discovering that Northern neighborhoods had an entirely different, more hardened, multiethnic toughness than Southern cities) and it was my guess that Richard, as much as anybody, was the actual dynamo and idea man behind Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, along with William Sloane Coffin, then the pastor of Riverside Church.

One idea prominent at that time was that Vietnam was draining Lyndon Johnson’s attention (and funding) away from the struggle for civil rights and the soon-to-come War on Poverty. Others in our group knew the military maxim that the United States should never get bogged down in a land war in Asia, particularly in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Most of all, such a war failed the just-war condition that it ought to have a reasonable chance for success. Another condition for just war that it failed was proportionality. General Westmoreland (particularly as time went by) was conducting carpet bombing and large-unit movements that made civilian casualties more probable while failing to address the insidious rifle-to-rifle guerilla warfare that was arousing the fears of ordinary Vietnamese villagers and peasants. The security of villages was being forgotten.

The plight of the poor, plus the seemingly wasteful war in Vietnam, radicalized Berger and Neuhaus, and me with them. All three of us had conservative temperaments, so the move to the radical side was for us more a matter of persuaded intellect than of habit. But our radical swing never made us anti-American or unaware of the geostrategic consequences of a humiliating American defeat in Vietnam. We liked the saying of Albert Camus: “I should like to be able to love both justice and my own country.” We didn’t judge the war as at root unjust, rather as being fought in the wrong way and with too little likelihood of success. We had no illusions about the crimes the North Vietnamese communists would”and did”ultimately wreak upon the South.

Although Dan Berrigan was a friend of ours, we could not share his growing anti-Americanism, romanticism, and semiviolent nonviolence. Richard and I traveled down to Maryland for the trial of the famous Catonsville Nine, partly to report on it, partly to give Dan (increasingly skeptical) moral support.

It sounds most improbable, but Richard ran for a congressional seat in Brooklyn, on a left-of-mainstream Democratic ticket, and I explored doing the same in Johnstown, Pennsylvania”the seat that not long afterward the Vietnam veteran Jack Murtha won. Peter Berger, with his Viennese sense of irony, did not run for office.

Among all my Protestant friends, Pastor Richard was the most opposed to abortion, both intellectually and with considerable passion. The Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 simply made it necessary to begin separating himself from how the left was changing its nature.

Moreover, like Catholic priests, Richard was living a celibate life. Unlike many of them at that time, he loved a good liturgy (including praying the Divine Office with others, especially evening prayer sung before dinner). And, my goodness, he gave great, stentorian, ­polished sermons. Even in his dinner conversations in those days, his voice boomed in sometimes sermonic cadences, and when he was younger his conversation seemed at first encounter moderately and unselfconsciously pompous.

Those who loved Richard came to see this booming presence as part of his personality. He was a pastor and preacher to the inmost core. The longer one knew him, however, the more impressed one became by the deep vein of humility that was hidden behind the sometimes pompous manner. If humility means coming to know the truth about yourself, with equanimity, Richard moved deeper and deeper into it. As years went by, he didn’t flinch from the intellectually cutting criticism nor from the frequent mocking that he took from his friends. He rather enjoyed it. He gave the same to others.

As the years went on, Richard seemed to grow ever more knowledgeable, poised, intellectually many-sided, and well informed about the vast array of ­conflicts, arguments, clashing ambitions, and hidden purposes that mark our national civic life. In any perplexity about how to respond to this or that, his many friends would at the drop of a hat telephone him for counsel. It was invariably worth the call.

Richard seemed to read heavy books, as well as monthly magazines, weekly journals and daily newspapers, more hours than the rest of us. He had early formed the habit of writing down the more unusual (or unintentionally self-revealing) angles of all he read. This habit is what gave “The Public Square,” Richard’s column in First Things , its mordant bite. His deliberately fey, ironic tone flirted with sarcasm just enough to keep the reader’s nervous reaction on edge, until the signal came (and it always did) that this taking to the woodshed was all for fun. Richard enjoyed this earth’s comedy while awaiting the Divine Comedy.

One thing Richard was most hopeless in was following sports. One of his friends wrote in a book once, after reflecting on the necessary good that frequent defeats built into a man’s character, he personally could not trust anyone who did not play sports. Richard felt wounded and once plaintively asked: “Is it I, Lord?”

Pastor Richard, later Father Richard”and of those two titles, I knew him longer under the first than the second”seems to have had from very early years a sharp sense of “living toward death.” A burial slab in the monastery at Krakow thrust at passers-by the sculpture of a skull, around which ran in archaic lettering: Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi : “Today me, tomorrow you.” I never heard Richard speak of that skull or its terse motto, but he seemed more than others to live his life with its kind of awareness”and maybe, for that ­reason, as a happier man, with a more exquisitely lively sense of humor.

Once Richard became the Catholic he had always been, crossing the muddy Tiber (in moonlight, silver) to do so, no one ever more enjoyed being Catholic. I sometimes felt a little sorry for his longtime Lutheran friends when in their presence he showed so much intensity about it. Once, it is said, he even told the pope at the pope’s own table: “But Holy Father, you can’t say that!” Fortunately, after a moment’s silence, John Paul II himself burst out laughing, in appreciation of American directness.

Fr. Richard”Lutheran and German”was always a serious man, grabbing more out of every minute and every conversation than most of us imagined lay there to be mined. Yet in another way he took neither himself nor any other temporal thing with full seriousness. All things pass away . Richard was determined to play his part in our pilgrimage with colorful seriousness, yet he always knew it was a pilgrimage and had an end point.

Michael Novak, a member of the editorial board of First Things , holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is No One Sees God (Doubleday, 2008).

d Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, along with William Sloane Coffin, then the pastor of Riverside Church.

One idea prominent at that time was that Vietnam was draining Lyndon Johnson’s attention (and funding) away from the struggle for civil rights and the soon-to-come War on Poverty. Others in our group knew the military maxim that the United States should never get bogged down in a land war in Asia, particularly in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Most of all, such a war failed the just-war condition that it ought to have a reasonable chance for success. Another condition for just war that it failed was proportionality. General Westmoreland (particularly as time went by) was conducting carpet bombing and large-unit movements that made civilian casualties more probable while failing to address the insidious rifle-to-rifle guerilla warfare that was arousing the fears of ordinary Vietnamese villagers and peasants. The security of villages was being forgotten.

The plight of the poor, plus the seemingly wasteful war in Vietnam, radicalized Berger and Neuhaus, and me with them. All three of us had conservative temperaments, so the move to the radical side was for us more a matter of persuaded intellect than of habit. But our radical swing never made us anti-American or unaware of the geostrategic consequences of a humiliating American defeat in Vietnam. We liked the saying of Albert Camus: “I should like to be able to love both justice and my own country.” We didn’t judge the war as at root unjust, rather as being fought in the wrong way and with too little likelihood of success. We had no illusions about the crimes the North Vietnamese communists would”and did”ultimately wreak upon the South.

Although Dan Berrigan was a friend of ours, we could not share his growing anti-Americanism, romanticism, and semiviolent nonviolence. Richard and I traveled down to Maryland for the trial of the famous Catonsville Nine, partly to report on it, partly to give Dan (increasingly skeptical) moral support.

It sounds most improbable, but Richard ran for a congressional seat in Brooklyn, on a left-of-mainstream Democratic ticket, and I explored doing the same in Johnstown, Pennsylvania”the seat that not long afterward the Vietnam veteran Jack Murtha won. Peter Berger, with his Viennese sense of irony, did not run for office.

Among all my Protestant friends, Pastor Richard was the most opposed to abortion, both intellectually and with considerable passion. The Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 simply made it necessary to begin separating himself from how the left was changing its nature.

Moreover, like Catholic priests, Richard was living a celibate life. Unlike many of them at that time, he loved a good liturgy (including praying the Divine Office with others, especially evening prayer sung before dinner). And, my goodness, he gave great, stentorian, ­polished sermons. Even in his dinner conversations in those days, his voice boomed in sometimes sermonic cadences, and when he was younger his conversation seemed at first encounter moderately and unselfconsciously pompous.

Those who loved Richard came to see this booming presence as part of his personality. He was a pastor and preacher to the inmost core. The longer one knew him, however, the more impressed one became by the deep vein of humility that was hidden behind the sometimes pompous manner. If humility means coming to know the truth about yourself, with equanimity, Richard moved deeper and deeper into it. As years went by, he didn’t flinch from the intellectually cutting criticism nor from the frequent mocking that he took from his friends. He rather enjoyed it. He gave the same to others.

As the years went on, Richard seemed to grow ever more knowledgeable, poised, intellectually many-sided, and well informed about the vast array of ­conflicts, arguments, clashing ambitions, and hidden purposes that mark our national civic life. In any perplexity about how to respond to this or that, his many friends would at the drop of a hat telephone him for counsel. It was invariably worth the call.

Richard seemed to read heavy books, as well as monthly magazines, weekly journals and daily newspapers, more hours than the rest of us. He had early formed the habit of writing down the more unusual (or unintentionally self-revealing) angles of all he read. This habit is what gave “The Public Square,” Richard’s column in First Things , its mordant bite. His deliberately fey, ironic tone flirted with sarcasm just enough to keep the reader’s nervous reaction on edge, until the signal came (and it always did) that this taking to the woodshed was all for fun. Richard enjoyed this earth’s comedy while awaiting the Divine Comedy.

One thing Richard was most hopeless in was following sports. One of his friends wrote in a book once, after reflecting on the necessary good that frequent defeats built into a man’s character, he personally could not trust anyone who did not play sports. Richard felt wounded and once plaintively asked: “Is it I, Lord?”

Pastor Richard, later Father Richard”and of those two titles, I knew him longer under the first than the second”seems to have had from very early years a sharp sense of “living toward death.” A burial slab in the monastery at Krakow thrust at passers-by the sculpture of a skull, around which ran in archaic lettering: Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi : “Today me, tomorrow you.” I never heard Richard speak of that skull or its terse motto, but he seemed more than others to live his life with its kind of awareness”and maybe, for that ­reason, as a happier man, with a more exquisitely lively sense of humor.

Once Richard became the Catholic he had always been, crossing the muddy Tiber (in moonlight, silver) to do so, no one ever more enjoyed being Catholic. I sometimes felt a little sorry for his longtime Lutheran friends when in their presence he showed so much intensity about it. Once, it is said, he even told the pope at the pope’s own table: “But Holy Father, you can’t say that!” Fortunately, after a moment’s silence, John Paul II himself burst out laughing, in appreciation of American directness.

Fr. Richard”Lutheran and German”was always a serious man, grabbing more out of every minute and every conversation than most of us imagined lay there to be mined. Yet in another way he took neither himself nor any other temporal thing with full seriousness. All things pass away . Richard was determined to play his part in our pilgrimage with colorful seriousness, yet he always knew it was a pilgrimage and had an end point.

Michael Novak, a member of the editorial board of First Things , holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is No One Sees God (Doubleday, 2008).