Readings: 1 John 3:11-21; John 1:43-51
In the light of current events, both in the Church and politics, I believe it’s worthwhile to consider the contribution of Bishop John Neumann (1811-1860).
He was an unassuming man from a humble background who profited from a solid education. He lived in very different circumstances than our own: after completing his theological studies, his ordination was held up, not because of any flaw in himself, but because there were already too many priests in his diocese in Bohemia. However, it was the mission to the young United States that attracted him and he arrived in New York with one suit of clothes and one dollar in his pocket and was duly ordained. Thereafter he joined the Redemptorists–in fact he was the first Redemptorist to profess his vows in the United States.
In that era, Americans were suspicious of Roman Catholics, as representatives a the papal “kingdom”; Americans were pretty much suspicious of anyone who was not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Rome was suspicious of American Catholics who supported a democracy, rather than a monarchy, as well as the separation of church and state. Religious freedom seemed rather irreligious to the Curia of that day.
John Neumann put his education and facility in modern languages to good use, authoring many writings for immigrant Catholics in the United States. Interestingly enough, he didn’t engage in the cultural wars of his day but simply sought to form his readers in the faith on an adult level in a language they could understand. Extraordinary for that era, the spirituality he propagated was based on the Scriptures.
He was no career cleric; responsibilities (first in the Redemptorists, then in Philadelphia) came to him because he was a responsible adult. He was as eager to be rid of his responsibilities as he was receptive to their demands as an obedience. His impressive organizational skills were not directed to politics, attracting influential patrons or self-aggrandizement but to establishing an effective educational system. His focus was his flock and their needs.
He wasn’t quite forty-nine years old when he died, worn out by his labors. He was remembered as much for what he lived as for what he did for his flock.