We received the news of the death of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, convert, priest of the Archdiocese of New York, author and editor of First Things. With wit and good humor, Father Neuhaus was a strong and intelligent voice of sound teaching and defense of the Catholic faith in the public square for many years.
The Christian presence and voice in the “public square” was a constant theme of his. He penned a book called The Naked Public Square and provided a marvelous anecdotal commentary in the monthly First Things called “The “Public Square”. He underscored that we must not allow the expression of religion to be marginalized from public discourse. People of faith have a right to express themselves in the great debate about the burning issues of our time. We have the right, as much as anyone, to shape the discourse.
In these WDTPRS columns I have picked up the theme of the “public square” especially in light of what I believe His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to accomplish in his pontificate. Pope Benedict has been trying to revitalize our Catholic identity precisely so that we can contribute something vital, and often missing, from “the public square”, where policies, laws and mores are forged under the heat and hammering of debate. Catholics must have a voice in government, the arts, the academy, the press, every human endeavor. But for our voice and actions to have a good effect, according to our vocations to shape the world around us, we must know who we are as Catholics, know what we believe, and be able to express the same cogently and with conviction. If we don’t know who we are, then we won’t have anything to offer.
Liturgy is a key element what I call the Pope’s “Marshall Plan”, to revive our identity and energize our Church, both within and also for the sake of our role in the public square. As we pray as Catholics, so shall we believe and behave. If we have fuzzy prayers, nebulous and ever-shifting worship, we will be vague and ineffective as Catholic Christians with nothing firm to stand on in our own lives and nothing worth of attention from others.
When Pope Benedict through his document Summorum Pontificum released the older form of Mass and the sacraments from exile, he put into the hands of parish priests a powerful tool for the redirection of our public worship and the revitalization of our Catholic identity. What was sacred for our ancestors in the Faith, is sacred for us today. What shaped our forebears and nourished the lives of saints, shaped cultures, guided the arts and thought about life’s deepest questions for over a millennium is part of who we are as Catholics. What served as a bulwark against religious and secularist error, what provided the rich and the poor together, the young and old, high born and lowly alike the possibility of a daily encounter with transforming mystery will be a mighty source of strength and grace now, as we struggle to be faithful to Christ’s commands in a ever more relativist dominated world.
I mourn the loss of Fr. Neuhaus. His example and words in the public square will be missed. In his life he helped to shape awareness of what is at stake. In your charity, say a prayer for him.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.
May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Read Fr. Neuhaus’s insight about death and dying…