Nearly a year ago I lamented the passing of William F. Buckley, whom I characterized at the time as one of my cultural "heroes". Looking back on it now I realize that he was, in a sense, merely a political hero for me--I admired his Catholicism but I did not always see eye to eye with him on Catholic questions. If I have a modern cultural hero of the religious sort, it is Fr. Richard Neuhaus. I first encountered his writings in the pages of Buckley's fortnightly, The National Review, at some point in the late 1980s. At the time Fr. Neuhaus was still a Lutheran; when he converted to Catholicism I was excited enough to write him a letter of congratulations. I'm sure he received many such letters--perhaps many hundreds of them--but he responded to mine anyway, and in considerable detail.
Since that time I have followed his publications rather avidly. I am happy to count myself among the "charter" subscribers to his own journal, First Things, which has consistently offered sane and sensible analyses of our cultural and political situation from a religious perspective. My custom--as I suspect it was the custom for many readers of First Things--was to read each new issue from the back to the front, so as to enjoy Fr. Neuhaus's proprietary column, "The Public Square", "first thing", so to speak. His pithy little comments on all matters political, cultural, and intellectual were often stimulating and always a joy to read. One wonders what one can ever hope to find to replace them, and him.
Sadness is an appropriate emotion even for the Christian who believes in and hopes for eternal life, since death and suffering are the outward signs of the fallenness of our existence--to mourn them is, in the end, to express sorrow over the fact that things must be thus and not otherwise, to grieve over the pain and suffering that is brought about by human sinfulness. But all suffering for the Christian is tempered by the sure and certain knowledge that our redeemer lives and intercedes for us at the right hand of God. At a more mundane level our sadness is only that we will miss our friend, not that our friend is gone forever. We miss him as we miss the loved one whom we see off at the airport--we are sad that they will be away, but deep inside we know that we will see them again, and every tear shall be wiped away.