In America it isn't easy being Catholic. Christmas always makes this particularly obvious as we're bombarded things we must buy, movies we must see and parties we must attend. Even the best in our culture would have us believe that the true meaning of Christmas is spending time with family. The belief in America as the land of opportunity has often been twisted into the idea that America is the place for me to live my life and further my material interests.
But this was not the belief of early Americans and it was certainly not the belief of our American saints. To the American saints, providing opportunities was even more important than seeking opportunity. Not only in the Jesuit missions of the north east or the Franciscan mission of the south west, but also in the large and small cities, the Gospel was spread to those who would hear it, the sick and the poor were tended to, and the uneducated were educated.
January 5th is the feast of St. John Nepomucene Neumann. John was born March 28, 1811 in what is now the Czech Republic. Even at a young age he was a talented student and it was no surprise that he was accepted into seminary despite great competition. When it was time for John to be ordained his bishop died and all ordinations were canceled. Unwilling to give up his vocation he traveled to New York where the diocese was in dire need of priests. He was soon ordained and sent to Williamsville, NY where he tended to the spiritual needs of over a hundred German speaking families. Not satisfied with helping just local Catholics, Fr. Neumann started saying Masses in the frontier towns, traveling the countryside with candles and a chalice on his back.
He soon gained attention from his superiors because of his tireless dedication and ability to speak eight languages. News of this little priest eventually reached Pope Pius IX and he was appointed bishop of Philadelphia, serving 170,000 Catholics. In his new position Bishop Neumann was able to continue his work helping those in need, but on a much larger scale. He was the first person to organize a Catholic school system and built 100 new schools in just eight years. He also built Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, numerous hospitals, churches, orphanages, and a seminary.
In 1860, he died of a stroke while walking down the street. In 1977 he was canonized by Pope Paul VI and his incorrupt body is displayed in a glass altar in the lower church of St Peter the Apostle.
St. John Neumann, servant of God and man, your desire to bring all souls to Christ inspired you to leave your family, home, and country. Ask for us the grace to live worthily in the spirit of our Baptism, so that all our thoughts, words, and actions of every day will bring God, our Father, greater honor and glory. Ask for us the graces necessary to help and to serve the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed. May we live as you lived, persevering in every difficulty, to know and to do God's Holy Will. In this life, may we share your intercession, the protection of Mary, and the grace of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.