Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The horizon draws closer every day

Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, has received the last rites of his Church. At NRO Kathryn Jean Lopez quotes something Father Neuhaus wrote about death:
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. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word "good" should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good.

Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.

Death is the most everyday of everyday things. It is not simply that thousands of people die every day, that thousands will die this day, although that too is true. Death is the warp and woof of existence in the ordinary, the quotidian, the way things are. It is the horizon against which we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and the next morning we awake to find the horizon has drawn closer. From the twelfth-century Enchiridion Leonis comes the nighttime prayer of children of all ages:
"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray thee Lord my soul to take."
Every going to sleep is a little death, a rehearsal for the real thing.
Pray for Richard John Neuhaus.

Update: Kathryn Jean Lopez again:
Over in the National Review world, we’re anticipating the likely imminent death of Father Richard John Neuhaus. He’s a Catholic priest who is on our masthead, was a longtime religion editor of ours, and founded the ecumenical journal First Things, which covers religion, politics, and culture. I’m a Catholic, too, and was surprised by the urgent pray-for-Fr.-Neuhaus-to-get-well e-mails. He’s been sick for a while now; this is his second relapse of cancer. And, as it happens, doctors don’t expect him to hang on for much longer. Which is sad for all who know him—a prolific writer, solid preacher, and generous man, he will be missed—and for all who would have liked to know him. But, for a faithful Catholic priest (and so many religious believers), death is actually joyous news.
Update 1/8: From Christianity Today:
Richard John Neuhaus, the Lutheran-turned-Catholic priest who founded the influential journal First Things, died last night from cancer.

More to come. In the meantime, First Things has posted a thoughtful essay by Neuhaus, "Born Toward Dying".

From Charles Colson, who worked with Neuhaus extensively on the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project and several political initiatives:

Richard Neuhaus is one of the most remarkable human beings I’ve ever known, a man of extraordinary intellect, a great communicator and theologian. His writings will be his great legacy in the manner C. S. Lewis’s are to us today. He had become a very dear friend and I will sorely miss him. He was one of the towering figures of our age.
Blogger Justin Taylor has a good timeline of Neuhaus's life. [more]

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