Friday, January 08, 2010

Never Without An Edge

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the brilliant writer and engrossing speaker who was engaged in both the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the conservative political movement of the 1980s onward.

A Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, Fr. Neuhaus was the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal First Things.

He also served for many years as an assistant priest at Immaculate Conception Church on 14th Street near 1st Avenue in NYC's East Village. That is where Fr. Neuhaus' funeral Mass was held last January 13.

(In October, 2007, I blogged about randomly finding myself at a Saturday evening Mass at I.C. celebrated by Fr. Neuhuas.)

I did not agree with him on every issue. But, Fr. Neuhaus was a valuable voice in the Church and in society. I'm trying to think of a term for his style. Perhaps "Christian snarky"?

This evening, I attended a Memorial Mass for Fr. Neuhaus at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

For the historical record:

The principal celebrant of the Memorial Mass was Archbishop Celestino Migliore of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations. The homily was given by Fr. George Rutler. The prayers of the faithful were read by George Weigel. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, spoke after Communion.

Earlier, as I was walking from Grand Central to St. Patrick's, I found myself remembering the in-depth interviews Fr. Neuhaus gave on C-Span. Two of those interviews can be watched here and here.

I also recalled the wise comments Fr. Neuhaus wrote in April, 2008, edition of First Things about a dust up between the comedian Bill Maher and Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

Here's that passage (the paragraph breaks are mine):

The comedian Bill Maher recently delivered himself of some rather decided views on religion in general and Catholicism in particular. On a late-night talk show he said, “You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god. That doesn't make you a person of faith. That makes you schizophrenic.” He added that anyone who is religious is schizophrenic, “sort of.”

As might be expected, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League blasted Maher for his “twisted mind” and “hatred of Christians.” That's Dr. Donohue's job. He likes to describe himself as a street fighter with a Ph.D., and the Catholic League is as inevitable as it is useful.

Those of us with different vocations, however, might ask whether the Mahers, at least at times, do not, however inadvertently, render a service in pointing to the astonishing nature of Christian truth claims. Astonishing if they are not true, and more astonishing if they are. We are not schizophrenic, but we are keenly aware of the tension and, at times, the conflict between the gospel and culturally conventional understandings of reality. Christianity is indefatigably dialogical but never without an edge.

Matthew Lickona puts it nicely in his memoir of a young Catholic, Swimming with Scapulars: “Let's be open and clean. Let's drag this out into the light and discuss. Let's not be shocked and resentful; let's love the lonely. Perhaps, coming from a fanatic, the message of God's love will regain some of its wonderful outrageousness. ‘Listen. I have a secret. I eat God, and I have His life in me. It's the best thing in the world; it leads to everlasting life. But first, you have to die to yourself.'”

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