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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Remembering a true Father

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was to the internet what the beloved Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was to television.  Neuhaus, a former Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism and was subsequently ordained to the priesthood, brought a fresh insight and a true love of the Faith to all three forms of media, print, broadcast and the internet.  Sadly, Neuhaus powerful voice fell silent when he succumbed to the effects of the cancer he had been battling on January 8, 2009.

A frequent contributor to EWTN's World Over Live, Neuhaus helped guide us through the mourning process when Pope John Paul II died and nearly launched into an impromptu Te Deum when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger emerged onto the loggia as Pope Benedict XVI.  He brought dignity and decorum to EWTN's coverage of these historic events.  Perhaps the closest thing we got to an emotional outburst of utter joy from him was when the word "Iosephum" was uttered during the Habemus Papam proclamation. 

Neuhaus was not afraid of telling it like it is, especially when it came to liturgy.  He leveled some valid criticisms of the Revised New American Bible and the Lectionary that sprang forth from it for use in the United States.   I often wonder what his reaction would have been to the coming revised translation of the Roman Missal.  I suspect that he would have been pleased with the new and greatly improved version and probably would have been anxious for November 27, 2011 to come quickly.  His sharp critique was not reserved just for the Lectionary; the music used during the Mass also slid into his radar screen.  His harshest words and on-target criticism came during the infamous Papal Mass at Nationals Stadium. 

Here is what he wrote about the matter back in 2008:

The Thursday Mass at Nationals Park introduced the Holy Father to aspects of the aesthetic suffering endured by the faithful in America. The background notes we have been supplied are not specific about who, for instance, is to blame for the choice of music.

...Of course nothing can diminish, never mind negate, the astonishment of the Real Presence of Christ in the Mass, but it must be admitted that the mish-mash of music and liturgical practices putatively representing the “other” of multiculturalism did vigorously compete with the central reality. I offered an observation or two on this in the course of our EWTN coverage, provoking the response that the people in the stadium were obviously enjoying themselves and we mustn’t try to impose our elitist musical and liturgical criteria. Ouch. The point I was making is that Benedict has written very specifically over the years about the distortion of the dynamics of worship when attention is focused on “our wonderful selves” rather than on the glory of God. He has also stressed the importance of renewing commitment to and continuity in the tradition of sacred music, including Gregorian chant, a tradition almost entirely absent from the stadium Mass. So the point of the commentary on that Mass is that it is remarkable that, on matters about which Benedict has been so emphatic, his views were so egregiously ignored or defied.
His words were spot-on nearly three years ago and they certainly ring true today.  Fr. Neuhaus had a great love of the liturgy and was adamant about the fact that the Church has her standards.  His strong defense of liturgical integrity certainly made a strong impact on me.

He was also very clear about how Catholics should be involved in the Public Square.  He emphatically stated that our voices needed to be heard. 

We call our priests "Father" because they are our spiritual fathers.  Just as our biological fathers are to guide us and take care of us, our spiritual fathers tend to the well-being of our souls.  They are there to love us and to admonish us, always helping us along our earthly pilgrimage.   Fr. Richard John Neuhaus certainly lived up to his vocation of spiritual fatherhood.  Through his writings and his talks, he helped to provide spiritual nourishment to countless faithful.  He reminded us that as Catholics, we have a responsibility to our Church, our country and our culture.  We need to have the courage to stand up for what is right, even if we are small in numbers.

Perhaps this quote from Neuhaus, an exerpt from his book, "Death on a Friday Afternoon", says it best:

“When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my won. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways - these and all other gifts received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will…look to Christ and Christ alone.”
May the souls of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and my mother, and all of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

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