father_richard_john_neuhaus—A prominent priest ponders his near-death experience


In 2003, as part of a series on NDErs who came to public prominence for reasons other than their NDE, Vital Signs published excerpts from a book by Father Richard John Neuhaus. In the book, As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning, he described his NDE.

  Father Neuhaus was president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, the author of several books exploring religion’s role in contemporary American social policy, and has been called “one of the most influential intellectuals in America” by U.S. News and World Report. Father Neuhaus died January 9, 2009, at the age of 72.


Much has been written on “near death” experiences. I had always been skeptical of such tales. I am much less so now. I am inclined to think of it as a “near life” experience, and it happened this way.

It was a couple of days after leaving intensive care [following three operations for an intestinal tumor and a ruptured spleen— Editor’s note], and it was at night. I could hear patients in adjoining rooms moaning and mumbling and occasionally calling out; the surrounding medical machines were pumping and sucking and bleeping as usual. Then, all of a sudden, I was jerked into an utterly lucid state of awareness. 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 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.”

That was it. They waited for a while, maybe for a minute, maybe longer. Whether they were waiting for a response or just waiting to see whether I had received the message, I don’t know. “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, and I was again flat on my back with my mind racing wildly. I had an iron resolve to determine right then and there what had happened. Had I been dreaming? In no way. I was then and am now as lucid and wide awake as I have ever been in my life.

Tell me that I was dreaming and you might as well tell me that I was dreaming that I wrote the sentence before this one. Testing my awareness, I pinched myself hard, ran though the multiplication tables, and recalled the birth dates of my seven brothers and sisters, and my wits were vibrantly about me. All of this took five or seven minutes, maybe less. I resolved at that