I did not know this, but it seems toward the end of his life Fr. Neuhaus and his close friends knew the end could be near. As Joseph Bottom said in the EWTN interview they had hoped for more time, but it was not to be.
Many of you First Things subscribers may have already read this, but I finally worked my way through Fr. Neuhaus’ “While We’re At It” section of the latest issue of FT (Feb 2009). The very last blurb is the following from Fr. Neuhaus asking for our prayers. I am sure he would still welcome those prayers, albeit in a different context.
As of this writing, I am contending with a cancer, presently of unknown origin. I am, I am given to believe, under the expert medical care of the Sloan-Kettering clinic here in New York. I am grateful beyond measure for your prayers storming the gates of heaven. Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much that I hope to do in the interim. After the last round with cancer fifteen years ago, I wrote a little book, As I Lay Dying (titled after William Faulkner and John Donner), in which I said much of what I had to say about the package deal that is mortality. I did not know that I had so much more to learn. And yes, the question has occured to me that, if I have but a little time to live, should I be spending it writing this column. I have heard it attributed to figures as various as Brother Lawrence and Martin Luther – when asked what they would do if they knew they were going to die tomorrow, they answered that they would plant a tree and say their prayers. (Luther is supposed to have added that he would quaff his favored beer.) Maybe I have, at leat metaphorically, planted few trees, and certainly I am saying my prayers. Who knew that at this point in life I would be understanding, as if for the first time, the words of Paul. “When I am weak, then I am strong”? This is not farewell. Please God, we will be pondering together the follies and splendors of the Church and the world for years to come. But maybe not. In any event, when there is an unidentified agent in your body aggressively attacking the good things your body is intended to do, it does concentrete the mind. The entirety of our prayer is “Your will be done” – not as a note of resignation but of desire beyond expression. To that end, I commend myself to your intercession, and that of all the saints and angels who accompany us each step through time toward home.