Sad news today, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has died. I read many of Fr. Neuhaus’ essay at First Things and appreciated his thoughtful arguments and winsome tone. One such essay was titled “Born Toward Dying” and was written by Fr. Neuhaus shortly after he nearly lost his life in 2000. The essay opens,
We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well.
“We are born to die.” In an age that prizes youth and vitality, the importance of dying is all but lost, and a great loss it is! Upon the occasion of his death, Fr. Neuhause was again able to remind us that we live in light of death, a fact which emphasizes the importance of living well. Fr. Neuhause exhorted Christians and non-Christians alike to a life in pursuit of God and of higher things, first things. As Christians seeking to live well, may his death and passing into the heavenly kingdom serve as an important reminder of the higher things to which we are called.
Peter Wehner wrote a brief reflection about the life of Fr. Neuhaus in which he said,
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.
At the center of a thriving Democracy is an informed discourse and debate. Fr. Neuhaus did not buy into the notion that debates needed to be ended, that a show of religion was indecent in public, or that each citizen, especially the religious ones, must merely be nice and coexist. Fr. Neuhaus took seriously his role as a Christian citizen. He was a man of Christian conscience and principle who fairly debated his opponents on the merits of their arguments, and often won. His writings, speeches, and other life work serve as an example to fellow believers of a Christian life well lived in the public square.