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60Richard John Neuhaus and the Priestly Vocationhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/09/richard-john-neuhaus-and-the-priestly-vocation
Thu, 08 Sep 2011 00:38:00 -0400 Twenty years ago today, on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Richard John Neuhaus was ordained a Catholic priest. Cardinal John O’Connor ordained Father Neuhaus in 1991 at St. Joseph’s Seminary, just north of the city in Dunwoodie. Exactly one year previous, on September 8, 1990, Cardinal O’Connor had received Richard into full communion with the Catholic Church, in a ceremony held in the private chapel of the cardinal’s residence.
Last night, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York invited friends and colleagues of Father Neuhaus to Dunwoodie for the Mass inaugurating the new seminary year, falling as it did on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of his ordination in the same chapel. Addressing the seminarians and the faculty on the importance of the interior life, Archbishop Dolan took as his inspiration a verse from the assigned reading of the day:
your life is hidden with Christ in God
“It was a winding road from St. John’s Lutheran in Pembroke, Ontario, where Richard was baptized, to this seminary chapel, where Richard was ordained, but the road always had a single destination—union with Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Dolan preached.
“Few of you will have a life as public at Father Neuhaus had,” he continued. “But we can all learn from him. The key to his life as a Christian disciple was that he always did his prayers in the morning before reading the
New York Times
. Prayer before penance, he would say!”
The great public life of Father Neuhaus was rooted in his interior life—his hidden life with Christ in God. Life as a disciple comes before life as a priest, a preacher, a publisher. How fitting then that Richard would be ordained on a Marian feast, under the protection of the first and greatest of the disciples, Mary, whose birthday we celebrate today.
Archbishop Dolan proposed to the seminarians that they could learn something from their former professor’s example. No matter what great matters of church and state required his analysis, no matter what urgent controversies beckoned him, no matter what outrages awaited his hilarious treatment—first things always had to come first. His hidden life of prayer, his friendship with Christ in God, his spiritual preparation for the morning Mass—all of this came before the many and varied projects he pursued. That’s what Richard meant when he told people that he prayed the Divine Office before reading the
New York Times
For those who knew Father Richard from near or far, the twentieth anniversary of his ordination is an occasion to thank God for all the good that was accomplished through him, not only for the public square, but for the priesthood in New York and around the world. Inscrutable—and marvellous to behold—are the designs of Providence, which deigned that the son of a Lutheran missionary pastor in Pembroke, Ontario, would grow up to become a great contributor to the mission of the Christian community in New York, both Protestant and Catholic.
It will not surprise his friends that on the very day of his priestly ordination, September 8, 1991, Father Neuhaus signed the preface to one of his books. He chose to do so deliberately, for it was the preface to the second edition of
Freedom for Ministry
, a book he originally wrote as a Lutheran pastor and re-issued as a Catholic priest. It’s about the ordained vocation, the call to serve as Christian pastors and Catholic priests amidst the “perplexities of the improbable vocation that is Christian ministry.”
Of all his many books, Father Neuhaus said the reaction to this one was the most gratifying. It remains my own favourite. He delighted in the positive reaction because Father Neuhaus was at heart a priest, who did all things with a priestly heart, even long before he was ordained a Catholic priest. He had a special place in his heart for priests, and in particular for those men preparing for the priesthood at Dunwoodie.
I would encourage seminarians to read
Freedom for Ministry
. They might find one passage in particular—as I did when I first read it as a seminarian more than a dozen years ago—strikingly applicable to their lives. It’s taken from the final chapter on holiness in the life of a priest:
The Holy See’s Response to the Cloyne Reporthttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/09/the-holy-sees-response-to-the-cloyne-report
Sat, 03 Sep 2011 05:43:00 -0400 The Holy Sees official Response to the Cloyne Report, released in Rome on September 3, 2011, marks a significant development in the sexual abuse crisis in Ireland. It has significance beyond Ireland, for the summer of 2011 has brought not just the latest iteration of Irish investigatory commissions, but a serious dispute about the role of the Catholic Church in Irish life.
The Response, at some 11,000 words, is comprehensive, even tedious in its detail, and adopts an understated and humble tone. The message, though, is clear. The Holy See will not accept the role of scapegoat being offered to it by the current government of Ireland. Furthermore, having demonstrated true contrition and a firm purpose of amendment, the Holy See is forthrightly challenging what it sees as an attempt in Ireland to use the sexual abuse scandal for purposes other than that of protecting children.
In 2009, two commissions of inquiry established by the Irish government published their reports into sexual abuse by priests in Ireland. In December 2008, another investigation”the Elliott Report”severely criticized the Diocese of Cloyne for its handling of sexual abuse cases. The Elliott Report was not produced by a government inquiry, but rather by the Churchs National Board for Safeguarding Children, and published by the Diocese of Cloyne. After the publication of the failures in Cloyne by the Churchs own child protection office, the Dublin Commission of Investigation was extended to Cloyne. The report of that investigation is the Cloyne Report, which examined practices in the Diocese of Cloyne from 1996 to 2009.
Why 1996? In 1996 the Irish Bishops, working together, produced a set of guidelines for handling accusations of sexual abuse by priests,
Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response
, commonly known as the Framework. Both the initial Church investigation (Elliott Report) and the subsequent government investigation (Cloyne Report) found that in Cloyne, Bishop John Magee and Monsignor Denis OCallaghan, the vicar general, did not apply the Framework guidelines.
After the report of the Churchs own internal investigation (Elliott Report) exposed the failure of governance in Cloyne in December 2008, the Holy See moved against Bishop Magee, who was reluctant to resign. In March 2009 the Holy See stripped Magee of all power to govern the diocese, and after a year of being in office but having no power, Magee finally resigned in March 2010.
In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI published his pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, excoriating the Irish bishops for putting the reputation of the Church ahead of giving concrete help to victims and administering just punishments to abusing priests.
In July 2011, after the publication of the Cloyne Report, the Taoiseach (prime minister of the Republic of Ireland), Edna Kenny, excoriated the Holy See in a landmark address to the Irish parliament, saying that for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day.
The Irish parliament soon after passed a resolution deplor[ing] the Vaticans intervention which contributed to the undermining of the child protection framework and guidelines of the Irish State and the Irish Bishops.
The Taoiseach and the parliament have made a significant change in the story of sexual abuse in Ireland”it was now the Irish Bishops and Irish State who were trying to fix a horrible situation, only to be frustrated by the Holy See. It was a bold and, one must observe, self-serving argument coming from the Irish government. It was also politically astute, for wrapping oneself in the Irish flag against Rome is currently advantageous. But is this a true telling of the tale in Cloyne and in Ireland more broadly? The Holy See vigorously disagreed, and a few days after the Taoiseachs address, expressed its displeasure by recalling its nuncio in Ireland for consultations. Those consultations resulted in the Response issued September 3.
Two Story of a Scandal
The Cloyne Reports findings about what happened in Cloyne were not unexpected. To the contrary, the Churchs own Elliott Report had blown the whistle on Cloyne, and Magee had already been sacked. The failings in Cloyne were well known and being remedied. After the Elliott Report in 2008, the Diocese of Cloyne significantly improved its protocols in accord with the 1996 Framework and subsequent revisions. The Cloyne Report itself commends the 1996 Framework: the standards which were adopted by the Church are high standards which, if fully implemented, would afford proper protection to children.
Fair enough”effective protocols need not only be in place but be observed in practise. Why had the Framework been ignored in Cloyne from 1996 to 2009? The Cloyne Report accuses the Holy See of intervening”the intervention in the parliamentary resolution”to undermine the 1996 Framework.
In his speech to parliament the Taoiseach made a second, broader, accusation, namely that the Holy See considers itself to be outside, or perhaps even above, the laws of the Irish state. The alleged undermining intervention was only one example of a general attitude. The Holy Sees Response emphatically rejects this accusation, in both its narrower and broader form.
At the heart of the accusation is a January 1997 letter from the Apostolic Nuncio in Ireland to the Irish Bishops about the 1996 Framework. In that letter, Archbishop Luciano Storero, now deceased, expressed the reservations of the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome about the Framework. (About this, more later.)
The Cloyne Report tells the following story. By 1996 the Irish Bishops had established high standards for handling the sexual abuse of minors, but the Storero letter strengthened the position of those who were opposed to the official policy. In short, the mess in Ireland was being remedied by the Irish Bishops, but the Holy See was encouraging dissent from the new Irish policies. The Cloyne Report concludes that the Storero letter enabled the lack of action by Bishop Magee and Msgr. OCallaghan in Cloyne. The Taoiseach then broadened this conclusion to a general accusation that the Holy See was frustrating what were effective remedies from the Irish Bishops. It was rather a stretch to condemn the Holy See for a made-in-Ireland scandal to which the Irish Church and the Irish State had made their essential contributions, but the Taoiseach inflated the importance of the Storero letter such that it became a cause of things that happened long before it was written.
The reason for the Holy Sees lengthy and forceful response to the Cloyne Report reflects not only the intensity of the Taoiseachs criticism, but also its desire to counter a narrative of the scandal that it considers false. The 2011 narrative on offer in Ireland is that the Catholic Church in Ireland badly failed in the abuse of minors, and when the Irish Bishops attempted to belatedly fix what was badly broken, Rome intervened to prevent them from doing so.
The Holy See considers a different storyline more accurate, laid out in some detail in the Response. The Irish Bishops failed badly in showing mercy to victims and administering justice to the abusers, and were very slow to fix what had become broken. Pope Benedict XVI himself had taken the lead on the sexual abuse file in 2001as Cardinal Ratzinger, and had been forceful in urging the Irish Church to confront the scandal in its midst.
The Holy See clearly feels that elements in Irish society”both in the Church and in the State “ are eager to make the Holy See in particular and the entire Catholic Church a scapegoat for the failings of all of Irish society to deal with the scourge of sexual abuse. Hence the Response is both contrite and sharp, pointing out failings of the Irish State to do what it holds that the Holy See prevented. If the prime ministers Cloyne Report speech was a declaration of hostilities, the Holy See has joined the battle. The key conflict is over the Storero letter.
The Storero Letter
The January 1997 letter by Archbishop Storero to the Irish Bishops made three points: i) the Framework was a study document not a binding policy, ii) the Framework had to comply with canon law, otherwise priests punished under the Framework might successfully appeal their cases to Rome, and iii) the Congregation for the Clergy had reservations about mandatory reporting.
The Cloyne Report accuses the Holy See of downgrading the Framework by calling it a study document rather than a binding policy upon all Irish Bishops. The Response rather easily dismisses this accusation, quoting letters from the Irish Bishops which themselves present the Framework as guidelines under development and not a binding policy. The Response further notes that nothing prevented any Bishop from adopting the Framework, even if was not legally binding in canon law. Indeed, just that seems to have happened across Ireland, with the exception of (to date) Cloyne.
The Cloyne Report says that requiring the Framework to comply with existing canon law undermined the Frameworks capacity to deal with abusers. The Response observes that if punishments meted out under the Framework were inconsistent with canon law, then priests punished could appeal successfully to Rome on the grounds that canon law was violated. The Storero letter was advice on how to go about being more strict, not an invitation to be more lenient. The experience of the American Bishops in 2002 demonstrated how the Holy See was willing to adapt canon law to make penalties more severe. The Irish Bishops never asked”and even to this day have not asked”for what the Americans did.
In his interview book,
Light of the World
, published last year, Benedict XVI observed in regards to Ireland:
]]>A Martyr in Parliament: The Honorable Shahbaz Bhatti (1968 – 2011)https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/03/a-martyr-in-parliament
Mon, 14 Mar 2011 00:01:00 -0400 The homily delivered at a St. Thomas More Society memorial Mass for assassinated Pakistani cabinet minister Shabaz Bhatti. The Mass was offered in the Sean OSullivan Chapel on March 7, 2011, Parliament Hill, Ottawa.
]]>The Straight Lines of Providencehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2010/09/the-straight-lines-of-providence
Mon, 20 Sep 2010 10:08:00 -0400 The homily from the Mass for the twentieth anniversary of the reception into the Catholic Church of Richard John Neuhaus.
The genealogy of Jesus Christ is something of a homiletic challenge. But Saint Matthew recorded it, and so the Church presents it to us, though not often. We find it, appropriately enough, on this feast of the nativity of Our Lady, and also as the gospel for the vigil Mass of the Nativity of the Lord. (In my first years as a priest, I used the genealogy for that early evening Mass on Christmas Eve; no matter how liturgically correct it was, Jehoshaphat begat Joram is not what that congregation was looking for . . . .)
What is striking about the genealogy is that the history is so sparing, so bare. From Abraham to David to the exile to Jesus born in Bethlehem, the line seems so direct, the progression so clear.
Jehoshaphat begat Joram, and
Eliakim was the father of Azor. It is so obvious to us that things should have proceeded that way, because in fact they did proceed that way, an almost inexorable unfolding of the history of salvation. We might say with Saint Paul in our first reading, for those he foreknew he also predestined. How could it have been otherwise?
Yet what Saint Matthew gives us in a few lines traces out a most tumultuous history, and surely to those who were living through it the outcome was not clear at all. Even when Mary was born, or when Joseph took her to be his wife, could anyone have said with serenity:
Of course, from her would be born Jesus who is called the Christ
In one of my first conversations with Father Neuhaus, in 1994 in Krakow,
he told me that his entire life seemed to him to be a straight line leading to his ordination as a Catholic priest”which took place nineteen years ago today, on this feast of the Nativity of Mary in 1991.
Is that possible to believe: that a straight line connected a Lutheran ministers home in Pembroke, Ontario, and Concordia Seminary, and his first pastoral assignment in Massena and St. John the Mundane in Brooklyn and Immaculate Conception and the private chapel of the Archbishop of New York? Was there a straight line from that chamber of commerce in Cisco, Texas, where, as Richard never tired of repeating, as a teenage proprietor of a gas station he was the youngest member, to editing
? Is there any line, no matter how straight or crooked, that could plausibly connect the delivery of dinner from his local restaurant Adriatic to the dining room of the Bishop of Rome?
With the eyes of faith, all lines appear to be straight. With the eyes of faith, there is indeed a straight line from Abraham the wandering herdsman to Solomon the mighty king to Jesus hanging on the Cross. There is a straight line from Eve being cast out from paradise to Joachim and Anna rejoicing over their newborn daughter, Mary. The Venerable John Paul II remarked on these straight lines by commenting that there are no coincidences, just a Providence that we do not yet see. Or to say it with Saint Paul: All things work for the good for those who love God.
Today we give thanks to God for one of those points on the straight line of Providence”the reception into full communion with the Catholic Church of Richard John Neuhaus. Twenty years ago today, in this very chapel, Richard John Neuhaus professed his adherence to the fullness of Catholic faith before John Cardinal OConnor. Father Avery Dulles, S.J., was his sponsor. His friends George and Joan Weigel were present.
Can we permit ourselves to marvel at the scene? Just as Matthews genealogy gives us fleeting glimpses of lives mighty in the history of salvation, so too we can look at the history of the Church and marvel at moments richly blessed by Providence. Some of them are recorded for us in art and architecture and Christian piety”think of Benedict visiting Scholastica at her convent, or Francis and Dominic spending the night in holy convivium in Rome, or Thomas More and John Fisher exchanging secret messages in the Tower of London.
We can cast those same eyes of faith closer to our own time. What must it have been like in the home of St. Therese of Lisieux, growing up with her now beatified parents, Louis and Zelie Martin? Or consider the former Sudanese slave girl who became a Canossian nun, but before taking her vows in 1896 had to be examined by the local bishop; the woman was St. Josephine Bakhita, and the local bishop Giuseppe Sarto, patriarch of Venice and future Pope Saint Pius X.
Or consider that day when Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, one of the greatest pastors of the twentieth century, ordained Jerzy Popieluszko a priest”the Primate of the Millennium and the blessed martyr of Polish liberation. Or consider those private conversations of the Venerable John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa. Or to go back to our feast day, what must family life have been like in the home of Saints Joachim and Ann, and their immaculate daughter?
Of those who were present here 20 years ago, only George and Joan remain,
and I dont wish to embarrass them by suggesting that what took place here was on the order of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure in Paris. Yet it is not immodest for us to give thanks for those gathered in this chapel that day”John OConnor, Richard John Neuhaus, Avery Dulles, George Weigel.
It was surely one of those moments pregnant”if one might use that word on a birthday feast”with Providence. Without those gathered here that day, the contemporary history of the Church in the United States, and by extension throughout the English-speaking world, would have been very different, and much impoverished. Speaking only for my own family, the men gathered here twenty years ago gave definitive shape to both my own priestly ministry and my sisters vocation.
From twenty years distance, and more than eighteen months after Father Richards death, we can say that
he would have become Catholic, and
he would have launched
he would have become part of the Catholic moment that he himself wrote about. Of course, for now we see the bright, bold lines of Providence. But on September 8, 1990, none of that was obvious.
So we give thanks to God for the act of faith and courage that Richard made here that day, an act of faith and courage that would strengthen the faith and courage of so many others. What the Lord would do in subsequent years was all hidden then, awaiting Richard to say yes to another vocation within his Christian baptismal vocation. How that vocation would end was also hidden.
There would be a straight line from this chapel on the 8th of September, 1990, with Father Avery Dulles putting his hand on Richards shoulder, to the cathedral where Father Richard put his hand on Cardinal Dulles coffin on the 18th of December, 2008. It is just a few hundred feet from here to St. Patricks, but that line of Providence was magnificently fruitful in the life of the Church.
Cardinal Dulles told Father Richard that he would always be a convert priest.
Avery Dulles knew that well, for he converted while a student. Richard was 54. We are in the days of preparation for the beatification of the greatest of all the convert priests”John Henry Cardinal Newman.
For those who like to wonder at coincidences, Richard was received into full communion in the 1990, the centenary year of Newmans death, and Dulles was made a cardinal in the bicentenary of Newmans birth. Another convert priest, our friend George Rutler, could write a whole book embroidering those facts alone. The convert priest seems essential to the intellectual life of English-speaking Catholicism”John Henry Newman, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Robert Hugh Benson, Ronald Knox, Thomas Merton. To those names we can certainly add Avery Dulles and Richard John Neuhaus.
Indeed, without these adornments to Catholic life, English-speaking Catholics would have a much diminished patrimony. These great convert priests demonstrate that what the Second Vatican Council teaches is true, namely that there are real sources of grace outside of the visible confines of the Catholic Church, and that these sources of grace, in Gods good time, work toward to full communion and Christian unity.
The Nativity of Mary is a feast of Gods good time. Her conception and birth are the final stages of preparation for the fullness of time, in which God would send His Son, born of this woman. What took place here twenty years ago was a moment of special grace, a moment in the chronological life of Richard John Neuhaus that encountered the kairos of Gods providence. For that we, and so many others, give thanks.
On the tombstone of Avery Cardinal Dulles it notes that he entered the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1946. On the headstones in the Jesuit cemetery at Auriesville, August 14 is the most popular date for entering the Society. The second most popular is September 7. Evidently, the vigil of the Marian feasts was considered a favorable time to enter a society dedicated to proclaiming the Holy Name of Jesus. Cardinal Dulles would be given the titular church of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The straight lines of Providence connect so many, many things! And Richard entered full communion on Marys birthday, for Marys role is nothing other than to lead all the baptized to closer union with her Son.
In August1990, Pastor Richard John Neuhaus preached his last sermons in what had been his fathers pulpit,
at St. Johns Lutheran in Pembroke, Ontario. He knew that he would become Catholic upon his return to New York. And so he chose as the theme of his final sermons the hymn,
The Churchs One Foundation is Jesus Christ the Lord
The Church has only one foundation, and Mary, Mother of God, gave birth to Him. Her whole life, from her immaculate conception and nativity onwards, was directed to encouraging all her Sons disciples to build their lives on that one foundation. We pray that today, she is leading her devoted sons, Avery and Richard, to the throne of grace, where they will have prominent places in the Cardinal Newman section for convert priests.
What took place twenty years ago today became an occasion of grace for many of us gathered here today, and of course a decisive moment in Richards own life. So there would have to be a statement. He wrote one, and it read: To those of you with whom I have travelled in the past, know that we travel together still. In the mystery of Christ and his Church nothing is lost, and the broken will be mended . . . . We travel together still.
Indeed, we all travel together, the broken bits being mended, praying for the unity of Christs Church, proclaiming boldly the Gospel in the public square, issuing the invitation to the high adventure of Christian discipleship, as we walk together along the straight lines of the Churchs providential pilgrimage though history, with Mary as our mother, for the Lord Jesus is indeed the firstborn of many brothers.
Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is a priest in the archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario. His last article for First Things was , a review of John Allens
The Future Church
. His writings can be found here . The readings for the Mass, offered in the chapel of the Archbishop of New York on 8 September 2010, were Roman 8:28-30, Psalm 13, and Matthew 1:1-23.
Mon, 01 Feb 2010 00:00:00 -0500 The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing The Catholic Church
by John L. Allen Jr.
Doubleday, 480 pages, $28
]]>The Great Conviviumhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/04/the-great-convivium
Wed, 01 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0400 Cardinal Ratzinger said in his funeral homily for John Paul the Great: This is not the time to speak of the specific content of this rich pontificate.
Likewise, this is not the time to speak about the specific content of the rich literary life and public achievements of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Our privileged task today is to bury a Christian disciple, not principally a public figure. You would all know that even without my quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, but I thought Fr. Richard would be pleased that his funeral homily began: Cardinal Ratzinger said . . . He liked to begin stories like that. Six years ago, he did me the honor of preaching at my first Holy Mass, and sure enough, he said, When Cardinal Ratzinger was ordained a priest . . .
Now it is no longer for Fr. Neuhaus to do for us, but our turn to do for him. We come to pray for the merciful judgment of his soul, that whatever sins he committed may be forgiven him, that whatever purification remains might be accomplished quickly, and that the Lord Jesus will welcome him home. We offer for him today the same sacrifice he offered on this altar so many times, the same sacrifice Jesus offered for us, the same sacrifice which alone is meet and just, right and availing unto salvation.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan, together with his brother bishops, offers this holy sacrifice, assisted by so many of Fr. Richard’s brother priests. His offering of this funeral Mass is a sign of the esteem and sorrow of the Church in New York, who has lost one of her most illustrious sons.
We pray too for all those who loved and admired and were inspired by him, that our Christian faith in the Lord’s resurrection may be strengthened. We ask that this consolation be extended to those closest to our brother Richard: to his brothers and sisters, especially Mim and Johanna, who were devotedly with him when he died; to his nieces and nephews and many relatives; to Jody Bottum and the family at
, who looked after him so tenderly these past two months; to Fr. Larry Bailey, who looked after Richard for much longer than that; to George and Joan Weigel and their children, for Richard was a beloved part of their family; to Robert Louis Wilken, his longstanding friend of fifty-five years; to all his colleagues and collaborators near and far; and to Fr. Joy Mampilly, and the priests and parishioners of Immaculate Conception parish, who have lost one of their own.
In St. John’s Gospel, St. Martha professes her faith in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life. We too profess that faith, and we so eagerly desire to hear from the Lord Jesus the words he said to Martha: Your brother will rise again. We need those words. Only those divine words permit us to live with joy and hope amid the sorrow and anguish of this time. This was the secret to the good humor and enthusiasm with which Fr. Richard met each day; this was the secret to how he bore up under the travails that came his way.
There are travails to be sure, for the task of the Christian in the public square is manifold: to be in this world, and if need be, bestride it like a colossus; to wrestle with the passing things here below while keeping eyes fixed on the prize above; to be as successful as earthly standards permit while remaining faithful to the standard of the Cross; to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ while taking note of the profane news of the doings of men. The public square can be a dangerous and forbidding place for those who wish to follow Christ. In the public square, just as on the streets of New York, it is wise to have a friend who knows the way. How much easier it was to enter the public square with Fr. Richard at our side; how much more dangerous and forbidding it now seems without our trustworthy guide.
The corrupting forces of this world were already at work on Martha’s brother Lazarus. He had died and been laid in the tomb. Behind the stone and under the wrappings his body was going the way of all flesh. Sacred Scripture is not shy on this point:
There will be a stench
. But the tomb does not have the final word. The final word belongs to Jesus:
Your brother will rise again.
Our brother Richard will rise again.
Martha says to Jesus for her dead brother:
Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.
That is the great Christian plea in the face of death. We call upon the power of Jesus, the Lord of life. Fr. Richard knew that plea well, for he never ceased to call upon the Lord of life for those most vulnerable. The day when every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life is not close at hand but, as he put it in one of his last major addresses, We shall not weary, we shall not rest. Whether it is civil rights or the right to life, the long struggle for justice can be wearying. So we need champions along the way, to encourage and to exhort. Here in this city the pro-life movement had no more formidable partnership than the two lions of Fifth Avenue”John Cardinal O’Connor at St. Patrick’s and Fr. Neuhaus at his offices at Twentieth Street. The late Cardinal and his great friend were happy, mighty warriors in the cause of life. Now we shall miss Richard as dearly as he missed his beloved Cardinal. The Cardinal gave two precious gifts to the Church and to the pro-life movement, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and the Sisters of Life, and it would please him that the latter are here praying for the former.
In our first reading the prophet Isaiah has a vision of the Lord’s celestial mountain. In the translation we used we hear of a feast. We used the RSV translation, because it is never a good idea to set the deceased to spinning even before he gets to his grave, which may well have happened had we used the lectionary of the New American Bible, against which Fr. Richard regularly inveighed. There is another translation. In the Latin Vulgate, the word used is
might just have been Fr. Richard’s favorite word. There are other candidates”
come to mind”but he loved that word,
. He was the only one I knew who used it in ordinary conversation, but, of course, his conversations were rarely ordinary.
strictly means to live together, but it connotes a banquet or feast, indicating that a certain supply of rich food and fine wine are, if not required, at least desired. Isaiah says nothing about cigars. But then Fr. Richard was not a
man. Convivium is an essential part of the Christian life. We are not meant to be disciples alone. Convivium is what Fr. Richard created over his whole life, delighting in the company of others and the delightful things the Lord had made. He drew people together who might not otherwise meet”Christians and Jews, evangelicals and Catholics, Canadians and Americans, clergy and laity, theologians and journalists, entrepreneurs and evangelists, distinguished authors and aspiring writers.
He brought us all together for a purpose. A good meal, a fine cigar or two, a stiff drink or three, and sparkling conversation for several hours were good in themselves, but they were so much better when put to the service of Christ and his Church. The convivium on East Nineteenth Street began for a reason with common prayer, the greatest reason for coming together. For one thoroughly captured by the Catholic sacramental imagination, each convivium points to that
of which St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his famous lines.
The great Christian convivium on earth is the Last Supper. I remember being here at this parish for Holy Thursday in 1997, in my first year as a seminarian. Fr. Neuhaus celebrated the Mass together with his brother priests and then we all repaired to the rectory for a festive meal to celebrate the institution of the holy priesthood. It was only a few months after the celebrated
symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics, and the priests were eager to ask the editor in chief all about it. Over drinks and then dinner, Richard put on a remarkable performance. Those who only heard him in the pulpit or read him in print missed perhaps his most gifted forum: the dinner table. He was a world-class convivialist.
After several hours, the dinner was winding down and Richard had been the center of the entire evening. Nobody resented that, but Richard evidently thought that a Holy Thursday celebration of the priesthood should not be all about him. So he shifted to homiletic mode, and spoke of the wonder and awe in which he held the holy priesthood. More than ten years later I vividly remember his words as he recalled the Eucharistic procession to the altar of repose: How utterly promiscuous is the love of God! he began, using idiosyncratically another of his favorite words. Then he preached to us at the dinner table, using those cadences he long ago perfected at St. John the Mundane in inner-city Brooklyn: The Son of the Eternal Father commends himself to our hands; the Word made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary commends himself to our hands, . . . the innocent Lamb who died for the redemption of the world, the Risen One who restores us all to life, . . . this same Jesus, my brothers, allowed me to carry him in my hands. How utterly promiscuous is the love of God!
Fr. Richard loved the priesthood and loved being a priest. He had a great deal of time for priests, nurtured priestly vocations, and stood up for the priesthood in recent years. Devastated by the unspeakable sins of so many of our brothers, wounded by the pain of so many innocent victims, slandered by so many who hate Christ and his Church”we priests needed a stalwart friend in those dark days of the Long Lent. For his brother priests, Fr. Richard was an often lonely voice speaking for prudence, for courage, for justice, for wisdom, and for holiness.
The man of millions of words repeated the same one over and over to all who would listen:
fidelity, fidelity, fidelity
. Had he become a bishop an apt motto would have been:
Is it not remarkable how many people have commented recently not so much on Fr. Richard’s works of controversy or argument, but on his life as a faithful disciple? His books on faith in the face of death”whether his own or the Lord’s on Friday afternoon”are the ones which touched souls. He knew this. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception a few weeks ago, we had our last long convivium at his home. He told me: As incredible as it may seem to you and as annoying as it may seem to some, I really wish I had written so much more. Not arguments nor controversies, nor pointing out the foolishness which needs to be pointed out; rather, the conversational mode”inviting others to look at life this way or that, proposing the Christian way of understanding things, considering God’s purposes so that others might discover him.
The flood of commentary upon his death showed how wide that conversation was. I read a line from Hadley Arkes which captures how many of us feel:
For his friends this is the kind of loss that tilts the world on its axis.
”that’s another of Fr. Richard’s favorite words. In Canada we say axe-is, but he preferred to pronounce it ox-is. Those who heard him preach heard it not infrequently. Upon his recovery from his brush with death in 1993, he wrote: After some time, I could shuffle the few blocks to the church and say Mass. At the altar, I cried a lot, and hoped the people didn’t notice. To think that I’m really here after all, I thought, at the altar, at the
, the center of life. And of death.
Today, the tears are ours, and we don’t much mind whether people notice. For seventeen years, this altar was the
for this noble priest. Not his journal, not the lecture circuit, not his books. This altar, surrounded by the love of parishioners who had no reason to know what he did with the rest of his time, was the center of his world, because every altar is the
In some of the maps of Christian antiquity, Jerusalem is put at the center”the
. It is not a cartographical error but a theological truth. Fr. Richard kept an etching of Jerusalem above the mantle in his living room. When he died last Thursday, I was in Jerusalem with a group of pilgrims. It seemed providential; I thought of the prayer we priests say for the dying:
May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion
. At the moment of his death, I was at the Temple precincts, at the place where for three thousand years people have come to pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
How Fr. Richard loved to pray that way, to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. The earthly Jerusalem, so battered and bloodied, was where the Lord began to establish the heavenly Jerusalem toward which we”Christians and our Jewish elder brothers”are walking for a providential convivium.
One of the most touching moments in the life of the patriarchs is when Jacob, already an old man, upon hearing the incredible news that his son Joseph is indeed alive and ruling in Egypt, resolves to see him. Yet there are doubts about whether he is strong enough for the journey. The Lord encourages him in a dream: I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes (Gen. 46).
Of Richard John Neuhaus’ girded loins the Lord will not make a great nation. The Catholic priest lives”as Fr. Richard lived, long before he was ordained a Catholic priest”in anticipation of the kingdom where they no longer marry or are given in marriage. Yet he became a patriarch, for his priestly and fatherly soul generated sons according to the order of grace, and begat many who labor even now to make of his beloved America a morally great nation. Amid the carefree domestic arrangements of Fr. Richard’s apartment, the most eccentric touch was surely the bathroom wall of photographs”dozens of them, arranged with all the care for which his housekeeping was known. There, greeting him every morning and every night were his tribe, his many brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, in Christ.
Without the patriarch there is no family. Had Richard John Neuhaus not been born that long ago day in Pembroke in the Ottawa Valley, there would have been dozens of books unwritten, hundreds of articles unpublished, thousands of speeches undelivered, controversies of great import unengaged, arguments left unmade, and millions of words unspoken. More important, if this holy priest had not passed our way, there would have been a multitude of souls unconverted, disciples uninvited, characters unformed, talents undiscovered, vocations unembraced, spiritual sons unborn. He is the father of a great family.
The last appearance in the public life of Richard John Neuhaus was the funeral last month of his friend Avery Cardinal Dulles. We made our way to St. Patrick’s with more than a little difficulty. At his side, it broke my heart to see how he concelebrated that Mass in great pain. We were being helped by Nathaniel Peters, one of the young men from
. Seeing how weak Fr. Richard was in the sacristy afterwards, he was overcome by emotion. Later when we returned home, he was a little embarrassed by his tears, and I tried to encourage him by telling him how grateful I was that he was looking after our dear Father. He responded: It’s a blessing to do it, because that is just what he is”a dear father.
The patriarch Jacob was assured by God that he would have the blessing desired by every father”that his eyes would be closed by the hand of his son. Many are the sons and daughters of Fr. Neuhaus. We have come this day to close his eyes, our heavy hearts full of gratitude for the incomparable blessing of being counted among his tribe.
At the conclusion of every convivium, every symposium, every meeting, Fr. Richard would look ahead to the next gathering, which he would announce with the proviso, should the Lord delay his return in glory.
The Lord will delay no longer; there is no more waiting for Richard John Neuhaus. He wrote, in what turned out to be his valedictory at the end of the February
: The entirety of our prayer is Your will be done’”not as a note of resignation but of desire beyond expression. To that end, I commend myself to your intercession, and that of all the saints and angels who accompany us each step through time toward home.
We pray that Fr. Richard is now experiencing the fulfillment of that desire, which eye has not seen, ear has not heard. We close the eyes of our dear Father. Our eyes are blurred by tears. We are afraid that when they dry, we may not see as clearly without him to show us. We close his eyes and pray that they may open upon the glory of the Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the great convivium of all the blessed.
]]>The Legion and the National Catholic Registerhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2009/02/the-legion-and-the-national-ca
Mon, 16 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0500The news two weeks ago concerning Fr. Marcial Maciel was devastating to members of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi; it was heartbreaking to see my friends on television, clearly distraught at the realization that their founder and spiritual father was guilty of serious crimes.
Fri, 01 Oct 2004 00:00:00 -0400 For Canadas social conservatives, the recent federal election offered cause for encouragement, cause for anxiety, and cause for alarm. That one election could produce such unsettled and unsettling results is evidence of what a tumultuous year it has been in Canadian politics.
]]>“Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism”https://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/04/ldquothinly-disguised-totalitarianismrdquo
Thu, 01 Apr 2004 00:00:00 -0500 In 2003, the chief appellate court of the province of Ontario unanimously ruled that the common law definition of marriage in force in Canada (one man and one woman) was unconstitutional, as it violated the equality guarantees of Canadas Charter of Rights and Freedoms (an amendment to the Canadian constitution, somewhat analogous to the U.S. Bill of Rights, but passed only in 1982). The Ontario decision followed similar provincial court decisions in British Columbia and Quebec. While the British Columbia and Quebec decisions struck down the old law, a standard practice in findings of unconstitutionality, the Ontario court went further: it decreed that Ontarios marriage laws must be
rewritten to include homosexual couples. With uncharacteristic alacrity, Toronto City Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses that very afternoon: five hours elapsed between the courts decision and the first gay wedding at City Hall, and Ontario instantly became a magnet for gay couples seeking to marry. The decision made international headlines as a major victory for gay activists. But that was only the beginning. The subsequent federal government response and ensuing public debate revealed that religious liberty itself is under attack in Canada. Indeed, the fracas over gay marriage has underscored that a totalitarian impulse has infected the Canadian body politic. Totalitarian is, admittedly, a hard word, but I believe it is required in this instance.
In response to the Ontario ruling, the federal government of then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (supported by his successor, Paul Martin) decided not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Instead it introduced legislation that would amend the definition of marriage in line with the court directive, with a clause that would specifically exempt clergy from having to solemnize gay unions. Having chosen thus to embrace gay marriage, the federal government then referred the proposed law to the Supreme Court. (Canadian law allows the federal government to ask the Supreme Court for its opinion on proposed legislation.) The government specifically asked the Court whether the proposed clergy exemption was compatible with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The reference question is deeply worrisome. It is widely expected that the Supreme Court will approve the exemption for clergy”though one can never be sure. But the fact that the question is even being asked is an ominous portent. The Canadian federal government has asked the chief judicial authority whether a bill which exempts religions blessings of marriage from government redefinition is constitutional. One would hope that the question need not even be asked. Yet so advanced is the totalitarian impulse in Canada that advocates of the federal redefinition of marriage positively boast of how broad-minded they are in allowing churches to administer their own sacraments as they see fit.
The freedom of churches to administer the sacraments is as fundamental a religious liberty as there can be. That freedom is not granted by statute, for the freedom is not the states to grant. Does the governments reference to the Supreme Court indicate its actual doubt about whether churches are free to administer sacraments? It is more likely that because certain public benefits flow from a religious marriage, the government is seeking the Courts opinion in order to forestall some adventurous human rights tribunal from forcing a clergyman to perform a same-sex marriage. Given that these tribunals have recently been given the authority to adjudicate Charter claims, it is likely only a matter of time before one of them acts.
That is the worst-case scenario of state expansion. But state expansion will likely pass other milestones on its way there, eroding religious liberty on questions related to marriage. First it will be churches forced to rent out their halls and basements for a same-sex couples wedding reception. Then it will be religious charities forced to recognize employees in same-sex relationships as legally married. Then it will be religious schools not being allowed to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage. Then it will be a hierarchical or synodal church not being allowed to discipline an errant priest or minister who performs a civilly legal but canonically illicit same-sex marriage. All of this can happen short of the worst-case scenario specifically exempted in the federal governments proposed law.
The federal governments decision was followed a few weeks later by the release of a Vatican document which instructed Catholic politicians that they could have no part in advancing gay marriage. The Canadian bishops followed that up with frank statements in support of the Vatican argument, and many wrote letters on the subject to be read in their parishes. Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary warned Prime Minister Chrétien, a Catholic, that he was putting his soul in danger. In response, the swords of the cultural elites were unsheathed.
The airwaves were filled with outrage that Catholic bishops would presume to speak about marriage and salvation”those having now become public, and therefore entirely secular, matters. The
editorial board, usually sympathetic to traditional social mores, told the Vatican to butt out. Former
Globe and Mail
editor-in-chief William Thorsell, a leading spokesman for all things progressive, solemnly warned that if the Catholic Church was going to stick its nose into political business, it had better be prepared for all the brickbats that accompany political involvement.
All of this demonstrates that the Canadian understanding of the vital importance of religious liberty is enervated indeed. In the space of a few months, the state has moved into a sphere previously thought beyond its competence”namely, the definition of marriage”and the political culture has denounced the religious leaders who dissented. That the Vatican document and the episcopal letters were examples of pastors speaking to their own church members made the cultural response all the more worrisome.
The gay marriage question is not the only issue which has eroded religious liberty in Canada. The gay activist agenda as a whole has been particularly successful on a range of issues. Here are four examples, three judicial and one legislative.
1. Trinity Western University, a private university affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church, was denied a license to certify teachers by the British Columbia College of Teachers because its code of student conduct prohibited, among other things, homosexual relationships (it also prohibited other sins against chastity). While the university eventually prevailed at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001, lower courts agreed with the College of Teachers that prohibiting homosexual relationships is unacceptable because it might lead future public school teachers to harbor a discriminatory animus against homosexuals.
2. In March 2000, Scott Brockie, owner of a printing business, was fined $5,000 by the Ontario Human Rights Commission for refusing to print letterhead and cards for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives. Protesting that his Christian faith prevented him from promoting homosexuality, Brockie had declined the order back in 1996. The Commission ruled that his religious beliefs did not entitle him to turn down business from homosexual groups.
3. In 2002, an Ontario lower court ordered a Catholic high school to admit one of its students, Mark Hall, to the school prom with his boyfriend. The principal of the school had previously decided that such a same-sex couple would not be admitted to the prom. In the course of the hearing, the judge took it upon himself to hear arguments about the status of Catholic teaching on homosexuality. While he accepted the local bishops articulation of Catholic doctrine, he determined that it was not the only view of the matter and sided with the gay student. Even though the prom is long since over, the matter is still working its way through the courts on appeal.
4. Finally, last year the Canadian House of Commons passed a bill that added sexual orientation to the list of hate speech categories in the criminal code. Hate speech is a criminal offense if it promotes hatred toward an identifiable group. It was originally introduced into the criminal code to deal with racism, and particularly anti-Semitism. Should the bill become law, the state will be called upon to judge how opinions on homosexuality are delivered. While the bill has yet to clear the Senate, religious groups have raised concerns that”following the Trinity Western, Brockie, and Mark Hall cases”public expression of orthodox moral judgments regarding homosexuality could now be legally penalized.
The public policy goal of rooting out discrimination against homosexuals has opened a huge new area of civil life to the power of the state, as it now seeks to regulate the socializing policies of schools, the practices of private businesses, and perhaps even the preaching and teaching of churches.
Homosexuality is not the only issue on which religious liberty is imperiled; medical practice is another. In British Columbia, the introduction of abortifacient drugs”emergency contraception or the morning-after pill”has posed a moral challenge for pharmacists. They were permitted to dispense the drug without a prescription, and the regulatory body of pharmacists indicated that it would be mandatory for all pharmacists to dispense the drug. It was argued that the public policy decision to grant a monopoly to pharmacists over the dispensing of drugs meant that their consciences had to take a back seat to a public health need. The case is still being debated, but it indicates that threats to religious liberty are not limited to the courts or even the legislatures. The vast array of professional bodies that are granted privileges by the state can be used as ancillary agents of state power to constrain those professionals who dissent on religious grounds from a particular policy, even if the matter has nothing to do with the dissenters professional competence.
A current example, still under internal adjudication, relates to a Canadian medical student who was failed in his obstetrics rotation for his statement that he would not do abortions. Not that he actually refused to do abortions”the issue did not arise in the event”but he said that he would not do them as a doctor. The Canadian Medical Association guidelines include a conscience clause which states that no doctor can be forced to do abortions. A medical student is in a rather fragile position: his professional future is in his superiors hands and he has no other option. There are no Christian medical schools in Canada. Should he not be vindicated by his university (or eventually the courts), the state monopoly on medical education granted to public universities will have been used to punish incorrect opinions on abortion.
The danger of authentic democracy degenerating into totalitarianism was summed up by Pope John Paul II in a highly relevant passage from
Wed, 01 Oct 2003 00:00:00 -0400 Twenty-five years as pope is no small thing. When John Paul II celebrates his papal jubilee this October 16, he will be only the third pope in history to have done so. So rare is the milestone that when Pius IX (1846-1878) reached it in 1871 his image was placed over the famous bronze statue of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica with an inscription stating that he had equaled the reign of the apostle himself (pious tradition gave Peter twenty-five years as pope, though the dates are historically uncertain). His successor, Leo XIII (1878-1903), was elected at sixty-eight, with the expectation that a briefer reign might be in order. Providence surprises, and Leo died five months after he celebrated
own twenty-fifth anniversary. And now John Paul II.