On Jan. 8, public intellectual and pro-life activist, Father Richard John Neuhaus, succumbed to complications from cancer and slipped away at the age of 72. Many Canadian pro-lifers will remember him as the keynote speaker at the International Pro-Life Conference of 2002, “Creating a Culture of Life,” where he reminded us then that we did not choose the pro-life movement; it chose us. He explained that we had to continue to go to marches, attend conferences and write letters. How many more? “Many more,” he intoned, with his deep sonorous voice: “Many more. Many more.”
A Canadian who became an American, a Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, Neuhaus seems to have changed much during his life. But, perhaps it is better to say that his world changed more than he did. In the 1960s, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. for equal rights for all races.
But, as the civil-rights movement became encumbered with the sexual revolution, Neuhaus resisted the radicalization of a just cause. A man of the left, the left left him; having struggled so hard for civil rights for all people, he refused to embrace the abortion agenda, as so many other civil rights leaders did.
Neuhaus also did much to heal the division between religion and public life. For too long, the separation of church and state has felt more like a divorce. Neuhaus, however, demonstrated that no irreconcilable differences exist between these two realms. Indeed, his own life of deep faith and public service proved how well these areas can be combined. And his many erudite books, as well as the journal he founded, First Things, continue to show that a “naked public square” is in need of the insights of religion.
In on of his most touching books, As I Lay Dying, Neuhaus recounted his experience of a miraculous encounter at the crossroads of life and death. While in the hospital, about a decade ago, Neuhaus had a vision of an angel, who said to him, “Everything is ready now.”
Of course, these words from the Gospel of St. Luke are an invitation from a rich man who “sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.'” (Lk 14:18).
But while many in the parable refuse this offer in order to tend to earthy matters, Neuhaus declined his invitation to the banquet of the Lamb to spend more years in the vineyard of the Lord. The Host, however, has now insisted that Neuhaus enter into his rest.
Though we will miss him dearly, this pro-life champion has gone on to the reward he so richly deserved, and which he once so generously declined, to be with us, in our struggle for life, a little longer.
Neuhaus inspired us for many years and his memory will be with us for many more years to come – many more, many more.