CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - Accolades for a life well lived, tributes for service to the cause of the dignity of human life and honors for his foundational role in forging the coming together of evangelicals and Catholics around many of the seminal issues of the age are all pouring in upon the news of the passing of a giant of the “conservative” movement, Paul Weyrich.
When I heard the news I was immediately moved to prayer, for Paul, his wife Joyce, their five children and grandchildren and finally for all whose lives he touched and who now mourn his loss. I ran to the garage of the home we moved into less than a year ago to find it. “It” was the little black book Paul had given to me. It contained the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. Inside, he had meticulously pasted in the directions for the Deacon who assisted at the Altar. I knew it would be there, it had to be!
After digging through the unopened boxes of books I have not gotten to since we relocated, I grew frustrated. I turned to the Lord and asked for help. Then, I opened the little box at the bottom of the stack and my eyes fell upon it. This book is how I will remember Paul. He was Father Deacon Paul Weyrich to me; a Proto- Deacon of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church who served the Holy Altar, for as long as he could stand, with deep piety. A man who bore the dignity of his clerical office, Father Deacon Paul loved the Lord and he loved Christ’s Church. He is now serving the eternal Liturgy in heaven.
Deacon Paul gave this very precious gift to me when I was learning to serve the Divine Liturgy. It had been his first service book, complete with notations. Along with our mutual commitment to building a new culture of life, we shared our clerical vocation. He was ordained as a deacon of the Eastern Catholic Church and I was ordained a deacon of the West, with an eastern heart. In the nineties, with the approval of my Diocesan Bishop and the recommendation of dear Bishop John Elya, then Patriarch of all Melkites in America, I was given permission to serve both East and West, as a Roman Catholic deacon and in the Melkite Church. The differences between the Holy Mass of the West and the Divine Liturgy of the East are vast. The role of the Deacon is significantly different.
As a part of my learning process, Father Deacon Paul gave me his personal Deacons’ service book. By the way, it is a custom in much of the east to refer to deacons as "Fr. Deacon". Today, with his passing to the Father, I knew that I had to find this book. It is even more of a treasure now and will keep his memory alive for me for years to come. It has his instructions inside, including when and where to give a profound bow, to incense, to approach the doors, to honor the priest, to don or remove the “hat” and so many other gestures and rubrics which he wanted to make sure that I did properly. He knew the importance of good liturgy. He taught me that it was an honor to serve the Divine Liturgy and insisted that I render my service with the dignity and beauty which it deserved.
The last time I saw Father Deacon Paul was at a conference in Washington D.C. on “The Light of the East”. He was in a wheelchair. He greeted me with such warmth. Now, even as I hold this Service book, it speaks to me of the Deacon prayed it. Protodeacon Paul Weyrich was first a son of the Catholic Church, a true Deacon, who, especially as the years passed and he struggled with his health and bore the cross of suffering with such dignity, drew his strength from the Source of all strength, the living God whom he served.
I will leave to others the task of honoring Proto-Deacon Paul for his contributions to public policy, his founding or co-founding of important institutions of public service and his significant role in forming the movement which unfortunately gets labeled as the “religious right”. It was so much more. It was an honest effort to defend against the advance of the culture of death which has, sadly, captured the West.
Paul Weyrich and I did not always see eye to eye on political positions. He was, mush more than I, a “conservative” on every issue. However, he was a truly intellectual conservative who had thought through his positions and showed respect for those who disagreed with him. We met on the defense of life, true marriage and the family founded upon it and religious freedom. Over the years we stood together on those issues. They are the ones which matter most.
In the nineties I had several conversations with Paul which became influential for my decisions. When I moved to the DC area and tried to work “in the trenches” of policy and politics as a faithful Catholic Christian in some early ecumenical alliance efforts, he gave me the benefit of his practical wisdom borne of real life suffering. In so doing, he saved me from becoming a cynic. He had been hurt by many, including those who were supposed to be on his “side”. However, he never gave up his deep convictions and he encouraged me to make that same decision.
Years ago, I wrote what was then a controversial article entitled “Requiem for the Religious Right”. In it I was critical of some aspects of the movement called “the religious right”. Paul wrote me an affirming letter. Yes, he took exception to some of my thoughts on policy issues. However, he also affirmed what he called my “thoughtful” analysis while kindly suggesting that the use of the term “requiem” may have been “premature”.
The Press releases multiply since Paul breathed his last breath Thursday. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank that he helped to found, was first out of the gate with praise. The Republican National Committee Chairman said Paul was "was instrumental in the development of conservative thought" in America. Another gentleman Catholic like Paul, Lee Edwards, a scholar and real friend of his, pointed out how much Deacon Paul had suffered. His failing health over the last few years had led to the amputation of his legs. However, Lee also noted: "He had a very sharp sense of humor which he employed at all times."
Paul continued to give oversight to his “Free Congress Foundation” the conservative think tank he helped to found. His last commentary was entitled "The Next Conservatism, a Serious Agenda for the Future." He was hard at work in the wake of the major shifts in the American political landscape, already planning for a new movement. After all, Paul Weyrich was a tireless defender of life, family and freedom.
However, Paul Weyrich was so much more than politics. He was a faithful member of the Order of Deacons, a Catholic Clergyman who knew that some truths revealed by the Natural law (and confirmed in Christian Revelation) like the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, were not just for “religious people”. Rather they have to be the foundation of every society or that society will never be free. He left a legacy of thought and action which others must now build on.
And, he left me this wonderful Service book with which I am drawn into the heavenlies everytime I have the honor of serving the Divine Liturgy. Thank you Father Deacon Paul. Rest in Peace.