January 08, 2009

Fr. Neuhaus, R.I.P.

I remember the sweetly curmudgeonly presence of Fr. Neuhaus opposite Raymond Arroyo, and how the two seemed so ill-matched and yet - for that reason - so well-matched in their complementariness.

I remember him saying in a golf voice on one of those EWTN telecasts, "We have not been given background notes as to who to credit for introducing the Holy Father to aspects of the aesthetic suffering endured by the faithful in America."

I remember his masterful meditation on the Crucifixion, Death on a Friday Afternoon.

And of course there were his ever-absorbing commentaries in First Things which will be keenly missed. I also recall meeting him just six months ago:
We went to the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 14th and First Avenue and heard Fr. Neuhaus, founder of "First Things" magazine, say Mass. I got a new appreciation for the power not just of words, which we readers tend to over-emphasize, but of delivery and the tangibility of "presence". His homily was consoling both in words and inflection, the deep bass conveying Christ's message that we are not to worry about the morrow and that we are worth more than sparrows.

After Mass I wondered what, if anything, I should say. That I read "First Things"? That I blog about it sometimes? My wife suggested she get a picture of us shaking hands which seemed excessive if appealing. I asked him for a photo and he assented and I told him I've blogged about "First Things" and that I'm from Ohio and he asked where in Ohio and he bore it all better than I would have, had I been in his shoes.
To have mentioned the word 'blog' wasn't all that smart, as evidenced by his understandable attitude towards the blogosphere:
It is hard to argue against the claim—and I am not at all inclined to attempt it—that Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson is the gold standard for the writing of biography. It is often said that Johnson is larger than life, but it is more accurate to say that he showed how large life is. Nobody thought that one man could produce that monumental dictionary of the English language, but Johnson did. With a few assistants, to be sure. He included himself in his definition of a lexicographer: “A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.” His definition of essay certainly does not apply to his own efforts in that direction: “A loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition.” It is as though he had foreseen the blogosphere two centuries ahead of its time.
Finally, a quote a couple of years ago from Fr. Neuhaus:
It is not a matter of revving ourselves up to experience again the wonder of the Christ Mass. There is no point in trying to recapitulate Christmas as you knew it when you were, say, seven years old. That way lies sentimentalities unbounded. The alternative is the way of contemplation, of demanding of oneself the disciplined quiet to explore, and be explored by, the astonishment of God become one of us that we may become one with God. He embraced the whole of our experience, beginning as an embryo, as we began as an embryo. In his abject helplessness is our only help.
More Neuhaus posts here.


Ellyn said...

I am more than a bit envious of your splendid opportunity to meet Fr. Neuhaus. You handled it very well. I fear I'd have made quite the fool of myself.

I'm still embarrassed about meeting George Weigel when he spoke at our parish. I murmured something along the lines of "I'm your biggest fan," and he was gentleman enough not to look at me and say, "You may be right." I joked around the office that I wasn't going to wash the hand that he shook, but that tapered off after a week or so - when people started looking at me like I might not be kidding.

TS said...

I felt the same way about meeting Amy Welborn for the first time as you did Weigel.

I feel fortunate to have met him though of course it was all of six seconds, but at the time the thought that he would be dead in six months was obviously the furthest thing from my mind. (Reminds me of our timing in visiting New Orleans for the first time a year or two before Katrina.)