As he lay dying on a hospital bed, I administered Last Rites to Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. A fellow Dominican Friar, Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., assisted with prayers. Sixteen years prior, almost to the day, Fr. Richard had a near death experience which he recalls in his book, As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning:
“I was sitting up in the bed staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat. What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two ‘presences.’ I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that. But they were there, and I knew that I was not tied to the bed. I was able and prepared to get up and go somewhere. And then the presences–one or both of them, I do not know–spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: ‘Everything is ready now.’ It was not in the form of a command, nor was it an invitation to do anything. They were just letting me know. Then they were gone. They were angels, of course. Angelos simply means ‘messenger.’ There were no white robes or wings or anything of that sort. As I said, I did not see them in any ordinary sense. But there was a message; therefore there were messengers. I understood that they were ready to get me ready to see God. It was obvious enough to me that I was not prepared, in my present physical and spiritual condition, for the beatific vision, for seeing God face to face. They were ready to get me ready. This comports with the doctrine of purgatory, that there is a process of purging and preparation to get us ready to meet God.”
Fr. Neuhaus was truly made ready, spending his remaining years as an active defender of the unborn. He once wrote, “We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along the way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person–of every human person.” It was an honor to salute this pro-life warrior as he exited this world.
In this issue of BlackFriars, you will read about how the Friars continue to stand guard at both gates of life. I thank you for standing with us! May Our Holy Mother Mary watch over all your loved ones, now and at the hour of death.
Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P.
Dominican Friars Foundation