Friday, January 9, 2009

The Passing of a Giant

I am an avid reader of "First Things" magazine, particulary because of Fr. Neuhaus' "The Public Square" section wherein he opines on all things political, cultural and religious. So I was shocked and saddened to learn that he died yesterday. Though I didn't know him, I considered him somewhat of a mentor, trying to learn from his fluid, eloquent writing style.

I did have the pleasure of meeting him in 1992 when I was a young priest in Rome. He had himself been ordained only about 2 years and was concelebrating a Mass at which I was the main celebrant at the North American College. During my seminary years his book, The Catholic Moment, was much discussed, though I don't remember ever reading it myself, and his conversion to Catholicism from Lutheranism made him a celebrity in Church circles.

After inviting everyone to make the Sign of the Cross, I started the Penitential Rite by quoting the Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in roughly these words: "The Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, wrote that grace is free but not cheap. It comes at the cost of Christ's blood and requires nothing less than our total commitment to his Word. As we approach the throne of grace, let us seek mercy for our sins."

When I realized that he had concelebrated, I went up to him after Mass in the sacristy and confessed that if I had known that he was there, I wouldn't have had the courage to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He graciously assured me that the quote was appropriate. Unfortunately, that's where our conversation ended. Fancying myself a hip, liberal priest at the time, I might not have been as interested in his thoughts as I am today. I just thank God that I can't remember the homily I gave or else I'd probably die of embarrasment!

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