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Eternal Pity

The Eternal Pity

Reflections on Dying

Edited by Richard John Neuhaus

Drawing upon a vast range of human experience and reflection, The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying demonstrates how people try to cope with the inevitability of death. Different cultures, informed by religious beliefs and sometimes desperate hope, teach people to respond to their own death and the deaths of others in modes as various as defiance, stoic resignation, and unbridled grief. In addition to examples from literature, poetry, and religious texts, Father Richard John Neuhaus provides an intensely personal account of his encounter with death through emergency cancer surgery and reflects on how that encounter has changed the way he lives.

While many writers have deplored the “denial of death” in our culture, The Eternal Pity shows how themes of death and dying are nevertheless perennial and pervasive. Society may be viewed as a disorganized march of multitudes waving little banners of meaning before the threat of nonbeing that is death. Some selections in this book depict people utterly surprised by their mortality; others highlight how the whole of one’s life can be a preparation for what used to be called “a good death.” For some, life is a relentless effort to hold death at bay; for others, death is, although not welcomed, reflectively anticipated. Nothing so universally defines the human condition as the fact that we shall die. The Eternal Pity helps us to understand how the prospect of death compels decisions about how we might live.

““This little book of thoughts on the mystery of death is a treasury of wisdom on the great perennial questions: What is the good life? How do I live it?” —Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law, Harvard University

“Intelligent and wise people have thought and written a great deal about death, and some of the best of what they’ve said has been collected by Father Neuhaus in this volume. The book is worth its price for the pieces by Flannery O’Connor, John Donne, and Peter De Vries alone; but there’s great wisdom, too, in Neuhaus’s own discussion of death, the kind of wisdom that comes only from a close approach to death. If you’re someone who’s preparing for death—and you are, like it or not—an attentive and repeated reading of what’s in this book will help you to prepare well.” —Paul J. Griffiths, Professor of the Philosophy of Religions, University of Chicago

“Those who know Richard John Neuhaus as one of America’s leading public intellectuals can now see the more essential Neuhaus in this book: the priest consecrated to the care of souls. Here Neuhaus has wisely selected from the wisdom of others on how we are to face death, and he has provided great insight from his own experience in facing death, which has made him a wiser man and a better priest.” —Rabbi David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies, University of Toronto

ISBN: 978-0-268-02757-5
200 pages
Publication Year: 2000

Father Richard John Neuhaus (1936–2009) was president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York, editor-in-chief of First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, and author of, among other books, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus From the Cross and The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America.

“Most contemporary books on ethics deal with professional ethics or particularly thorny issues. The series of which this title is a part, “The Ethics of Everyday Life,” will consider life issues most people face; this volume concerns death and dying. After a fairly lengthy introduction, in which Neuhaus movingly reflects on his own bout with cancer, the book offers 27 selections from various sources, ranging in date from ancient to modern times, each with a brief introduction. Some are religious, many are not; some are autobiographical reflections, others are poetry or fiction. On the whole they are well chosen. The book does not push one viewpoint but offers these selections for consideration. The result is a handbook for the dying—that is, every one of us.” — Library Journal

“This quietly compelling anthology contains reflections—meditations, incantations, benedictions—long on wonder, short on polemics. . . . The assembled voices—each of them worthy of inclusion—and the editor’s guidance, in the powerful introduction and the notes that introduce the contributions, make The Eternal Pity the kind of whole-being exercise the subject requires. Neuhaus, ever generous with his gifts, gives yet another here.” — Wilson Quarterly

“In this climate, an anthology of ‘reflections on dying’ might seem redundant. But it isn’t, for the real antidote to all the chatter about death in our own day isn’t silence but better talk. In The Eternal Pity, Richard John Neuhaus has brought to the task an urbane wisdom reminiscent of another great Catholic convert, John Henry Newman.” — The Weekly Standard

“If dying is in your future, then this book is written for you.” — St. Anthony Messenger

“John Neuhaus has put together an illuminating selection of readings from what is a huge body of literature on death and dying. All of the readings in this collection contain something of value. . . ". —Practical Philosophy, March 2001, Vol.4 No. 1

“[Neuhaus] draws upon his pastoral experience in Brooklyn, his own near death experience, and his concern for reflective public discourse to invite the reader to approach this subject with wonder and respect. His essay is filled with many critical insights regarding the way our culture frequently either denies or romanticizes the subject of death. Anyone interested in appreciating spiritual diversity in working with families who are experiencing the death of a loved one will find this book full of helpful wisdom.” — Social Thought: Journal of Religion in the Social Services

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The Eternal Pity

Reflections on Dying


Edited by Richard John Neuhaus

The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying
Paper Edition

Drawing upon a vast range of human experience and reflection, The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying demonstrates how people try to cope with the inevitability of death. Different cultures, informed by religious beliefs and sometimes desperate hope, teach people to respond to their own death and the deaths of others in modes as various as defiance, stoic resignation, and unbridled grief. In addition to examples from literature, poetry, and religious texts, Father Richard John Neuhaus provides an intensely personal account of his encounter with death through emergency cancer surgery and reflects on how that encounter has changed the way he lives.

While many writers have deplored the “denial of death” in our culture, The Eternal Pity shows how themes of death and dying are nevertheless perennial and pervasive. Society may be viewed as a disorganized march of multitudes waving little banners of meaning before the threat of nonbeing that is death. Some selections in this book depict people utterly surprised by their mortality; others highlight how the whole of one’s life can be a preparation for what used to be called “a good death.” For some, life is a relentless effort to hold death at bay; for others, death is, although not welcomed, reflectively anticipated. Nothing so universally defines the human condition as the fact that we shall die. The Eternal Pity helps us to understand how the prospect of death compels decisions about how we might live.

““This little book of thoughts on the mystery of death is a treasury of wisdom on the great perennial questions: What is the good life? How do I live it?” —Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law, Harvard University

“Intelligent and wise people have thought and written a great deal about death, and some of the best of what they’ve said has been collected by Father Neuhaus in this volume. The book is worth its price for the pieces by Flannery O’Connor, John Donne, and Peter De Vries alone; but there’s great wisdom, too, in Neuhaus’s own discussion of death, the kind of wisdom that comes only from a close approach to death. If you’re someone who’s preparing for death—and you are, like it or not—an attentive and repeated reading of what’s in this book will help you to prepare well.” —Paul J. Griffiths, Professor of the Philosophy of Religions, University of Chicago

“Those who know Richard John Neuhaus as one of America’s leading public intellectuals can now see the more essential Neuhaus in this book: the priest consecrated to the care of souls. Here Neuhaus has wisely selected from the wisdom of others on how we are to face death, and he has provided great insight from his own experience in facing death, which has made him a wiser man and a better priest.” —Rabbi David Novak, J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies, University of Toronto

ISBN: 978-0-268-02757-5

200 pages

“Most contemporary books on ethics deal with professional ethics or particularly thorny issues. The series of which this title is a part, “The Ethics of Everyday Life,” will consider life issues most people face; this volume concerns death and dying. After a fairly lengthy introduction, in which Neuhaus movingly reflects on his own bout with cancer, the book offers 27 selections from various sources, ranging in date from ancient to modern times, each with a brief introduction. Some are religious, many are not; some are autobiographical reflections, others are poetry or fiction. On the whole they are well chosen. The book does not push one viewpoint but offers these selections for consideration. The result is a handbook for the dying—that is, every one of us.” — Library Journal

“This quietly compelling anthology contains reflections—meditations, incantations, benedictions—long on wonder, short on polemics. . . . The assembled voices—each of them worthy of inclusion—and the editor’s guidance, in the powerful introduction and the notes that introduce the contributions, make The Eternal Pity the kind of whole-being exercise the subject requires. Neuhaus, ever generous with his gifts, gives yet another here.” — Wilson Quarterly

“In this climate, an anthology of ‘reflections on dying’ might seem redundant. But it isn’t, for the real antidote to all the chatter about death in our own day isn’t silence but better talk. In The Eternal Pity, Richard John Neuhaus has brought to the task an urbane wisdom reminiscent of another great Catholic convert, John Henry Newman.” — The Weekly Standard

“If dying is in your future, then this book is written for you.” — St. Anthony Messenger

“John Neuhaus has put together an illuminating selection of readings from what is a huge body of literature on death and dying. All of the readings in this collection contain something of value. . . ". —Practical Philosophy, March 2001, Vol.4 No. 1

“[Neuhaus] draws upon his pastoral experience in Brooklyn, his own near death experience, and his concern for reflective public discourse to invite the reader to approach this subject with wonder and respect. His essay is filled with many critical insights regarding the way our culture frequently either denies or romanticizes the subject of death. Anyone interested in appreciating spiritual diversity in working with families who are experiencing the death of a loved one will find this book full of helpful wisdom.” — Social Thought: Journal of Religion in the Social Services

The Ethics of Everyday Life