16 February 2009

Father Richard John Neuhaus

I just received this month's First Things Magazine (a fine Catholic monthly). Their long-time leader and editor, Richard John Neuhaus recently died after battling with cancer. Neuhaus was a Lutheran who then became a Catholic priest. He was greatly involved, and remained so to his dying day, in civil rights and advocacy. On the last page of the magazine is a brief reflection written by Neuhaus shortly before he died. It shows the grace, depth, and humour he exhibited throughout his life and public career. How beautiful and challenging to us all as we inevitably face our mortality.As of this writing, I am contending with a cancer, presently of the unknown origin. I am, I am given to believe, under the expert medical care of the Sloan-Kettering clinic here in New York. I am grateful beyond measure for your prayers storming the gates of heaven. Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is must that I hope to do in the interim. After the last round with cancer fifteen years ago, I wrote a little book, As I Lay Dying (titled after William Faulkner after John Donne), in which I said much of what I had to say about the package deal that is mortality. I did not know that I had so much more to learn. And yes, the question has occurred to me that, if I have but a little time to live, should I be spending it writing this column. I have heard it attributed to figures such as Brother Lawrence and Martin Luther- when asked what they would do if they knew they were going to die tomorrow, they answered that they would plant a tree and say their prayers. (Luther is supposed to have added that he would quaff his favored beer.) Maybe I have, at least metaphorically, planted a few trees, and certainly I am saying my prayers. who knew that at this point in life I would be understanding,as if for the first time, the words of Paul, "When I am weak, then I am strong"? This is not a farewell. Please God, we will be pondering together the follies and splendors of the Church and the world for years to come. But maybe not. In any event, when there is an unidentified agent in your body aggressively attacking the good things your body is intended to do, it does concentrate the mind. The entirety of our prayer is "You will be done"- not as a note of resignation but of desire beyond expression. To that end, I comment myself to your intercession, and that of all the saints and angels who accompany us each step through time toward home. (02/09)

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