Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

January 13, 2009


As a Lutheran pastor, Neuhaus served in a predominently black neighborhood in Brooklyn. He was known for his sermons and writing, his interest in social justice issues, his involvement in inter-faith activities and his opposition to war, at that time, the Vietnamese war. Somewhat curiously, later in life he endorsed the preemptive war in Iraq, begun by President George W. Bush. He became a friend and counselor to Bush, as he had been to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bush 1. He brought a special quality to the circle of neoconservatives that included Midge Decter, Michael Novak, and George Weigel.

Neuhaus was, indeed, a leader in our time. As a Lutheran, he brought Christianity into the public square; as a Catholic, Catholicism. He was a prolific writer of books and articles, always available to the print and TV media, the founder of the Institute of Religion and Public Life and the monthly journal, "First Things", with it's heavy, scholarly articles and his own eminently readable, frequently ironic, and always entertaining musings on the public and ecclesiastical squares. He was religion editor of the National Review. He debated pro-abortion types like Peter Singer of Princeton and a variety of individuals, who would exclude faith from the public square. In addition to his own many lectures, he brought many eminent speakers to wide audiences, including the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Neuhaus became a Catholic in 1990 and attended daily Mass at Epiphany Church, where I was pastor. He was ordained a Catholic priest the following year. I was privileged to be a member of a committee, established by Cardinal O'Connor, to discuss and then recommend to O'Connor what preliminaries should precede Neuhaus' ordination. Some on the committee thought that he should spend at least some period of time in our St. Joseph's Seminary. Most thought otherwise. I suggested that Neuhaus had a theological knowledge and understanding that equalled, if not surpassed, that of the seminary faculty. O'Connor accepted our recommendations: Neuhaus need not attend St. Joseph's.

One night I received a frantic call from Neuhaus. He lived a few blocks from Epiphany. He was in extreme pain, caused by an intestinal blockage. I told him to call 911 and have the ambulance take him to nearby Cabrini Hospital. I would meet him there. Surrounded by doctors and nurses, his life was in danger. In his book, "As I Lay Dying", he recounts the incident. He wrote

"Monsignor Harry Byrne from Epiphany, the church around the corner, came to administer Last Rites...Father Harry and I have been long friends for many years, a friendship marked but not marred by disagreements over his liberal propensities, both political and theological. But this was all priestly business, and he is a priest to his fingertips, a priest of the grizzled, no-nonsense Irish type who does what he is ordained to do and trusts to God that the doing of the thing will do what it's supposed to do."

Thank you, Richard. He continues

"Then there was confession and, yes, I will amend my life if there is a life left to amend, then unqualified forgiveness, for everything, without exception, followed by the anointing with sacred oil and the prayers for healing, if that be God's will, and finally receiving the Body immeasurably more battered than mine, which is called Viaticum, meaning 'food for the journey'. There now. That just about does it. All the loose ends all tied up. It was very straightforward, just as it ought to be. I was drifting into sleep. 'Goodnight, Harry. I'll see you' Sometime. Somewhere."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard John Neuhaus (May 14, 1936 – January 8, 2009) was a prominent American churchman (first a Lutheran pastor, later a Roman Catholic priest) and a writer. Born in Canada, he moved to the United States, where he had become a naturalized United States citizen. He was the founder and editor of the monthly journal First Things and the author of several books, including The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984), The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987), and Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (2006).

January 18, 2009 at 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Michael Webb said...

I agreed with most of what Fr Neuhaus wrote adn said and enjoyed listening to him on EWTN however, as an Australian I must say I think his views on business and labour unions to be naive and pie it eh sky and yet another example of American continual trust in big business culture. His ideas on moderating capitalism do not go far enough in my view.
Fr Neuhaus is therefore not unique in that regard as many of his fellow American priests and laity still are bogged down in the daily cultural cliches about big business and failed anecdotes about the alleged benefits of the 'trickle down' effect of allowing business greed to continue and for working people to be satisfied with crumbs. To my Australian way of thinking as a labour union man this is naiveity and when American corporations and marketing try and 'sell' this kind of 'culture' to the world is downright unacceptable. The thirty years of neo economic liberalism which includes massive privatisations of government assets like electicity, water, gas, road tollways and so on have been a worldwide massive failure for the working man who foots the bill for the big end of town.

February 2, 2009 at 7:50 PM  

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