There are many touching remembrances of Richard John Neuhaus being published far and near. In this passage from Hadley Arkes’s tribute (beginning about halfway down this page), he humorously recalls hearing the rumors that RJN was to convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism:
But before there had been any announcement, and while the benign gossip had been making its way within “the family,” I phoned: “Richard, I just wanted to tell you that I’ve heard the news, or I’ve heard versions of it, and I want to be among the first to congratulate you. For the word is that you are about to join the Lubovachers.” He said, “Hadley, I’ll never forget this conversation.” About a year or so later, we were gathered at the seminary at Dunwoodie for his ordination, and Cardinal O’Connor, with his characteristic humor, said, “Richard, you don’t deserve this ….any more than I deserve the honor of being here, ministering to you.” Richard was just lit up that afternoon, with a freshness and sparkle rare even for him, as we all gathered in the garden after the ceremony. I noted again “the family” gathered around – George Weigel, Bob Royal, David Novak, Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz.
And I couldn’t help wondering what Cardinal O’Connor would make of it all: Who was this man, with so wide a reach, bringing in with him this contingent so varied that it included Jews? He would offer his prayers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it was the Catholicism of John Paul II, which incorporated the Jewish tradition. Were the Jews on the way to Rome? Or was it that Rome had brought the Jewish ethic to the rest of the world? As one friend put it, When you’re Catholic, you are at least Jewish. And that sense of things, nurtured by Richard, has marked the cast in which I too would find myself moving.
Only a month ago–it was only a month ago that he was still whole, still sharp, still himself. Novels and movies always seem to me to get it wrong. Grief doesn’t conjure up ghosts. Grief renders the world itself ghostly. The absent thing alone is real, and in comparison, all present things are pale, gray, and indistinct: a vague background to the sharp-edged portrait of what is gone.
And, oh, what sharp edges Richard John Neuhaus had. He wrote and wrote and wrote–a discipline of writing that almost every other writer I know has told me feels almost like an indictment: 30 books, and innumerable essays, and all those talks he flew around to give. And, just as an incidental, 12,000 words a month poured out in the column, The Public Square, that anchored every issue of First Things, the magazine he founded.
He loved to tell the story of the time when he was complaining–boasting, really, in the guise of complaining, the way young men do–about how busy he was and how he didn’t want to fly to Cincinnati
to give again the speech he had just given in Chicago. And his friend and mentor Abraham Joshua Heschel said to him, “You think you’re such a big shot, they know in Cincinnati what you said in Chicago? Go to Cincinnati, Richard.”
And his whole life, he remained a man who went to Cincinnati. As a former managing editor of First Things, Anthony Sacramone, put it on the day RJN passed away:
Woody Allen said that 90% of life is just showing up. Richard John Neuhaus showed up. Whether it was at civil-rights marches in the 1960s or pro-life marches of the 1980s, Richard John Neuhaus showed up. Whether it was at the altar as a parish priest or at the bedside of a dying friend, Richard John Neuhaus showed up. As writer, lecturer, editor, raconteur, counselor, teacher — Richard John Neuhaus showed up. Every day. Until today.