St John Neumann

Bishop (entered heaven in 1860)

Dear Johannes,

I am glad to hear that your first semester of college in the United States went well.  Now that you have a chance to regroup a little bit before heading back into the rush of second-semester classes, I wanted to send you a note of encouragement.  I was struck by your last note; your evaluation of the moral anemia affecting America’s average college student was compelling. But I beg of you, don’t give up on the poor American lads and lasses.  They didn’t have the benefit of growing up in a country where it was illegal to practice their faith, as you did. Yes, I call that a benefit, because it taught you to value your faith, and it showed you that moral and spiritual issues have a profound impact on personal and social destinies.  There in the States, the devil has taken a different approach than he did back in your homeland of Bohemia: he has tried to lull us Americans into a moral slumber by making physical and emotional pleasures of all kinds easily available. But such slumbers are always fitful, at best. And I am convinced that our Lord has sent you among this sleepy generation of collegians in order to help wake them up.  That’s what your fellow countryman did back in the nineteenth century, when he arrived on America’s shores eager to take up missionary activity among the immigrants and ended up the first American bishop to be beatified.

St John Neumann (pronounced “noy-mahn”) took a big risk when he left Bohemia with his theological studies complete (along with a working knowledge of six languages – by his death he spoke twelve), but still not ordained.  He presented himself to the bishop of New York, who gladly gave him holy orders and put him to work ministering to the throngs of poor Catholic immigrants. St John threw himself into his responsibilities, focusing on the creation of a strong, dependable parish life and convenient, affordable parish schools.  Soon he joined the Redemptorist order (making his missionary identity more concrete) and was put in charge of a territory in northern New York that was bigger than his entire homeland. He lived humbly, but he worked indefatigably. He was so effective that he was named bishop of Philadelphia, where he continued focusing his efforts on education and on encouraging the growth of religious orders.  His flurry of fruitful activity came to an abrupt end when he was only 49 years old; he suddenly dropped dead while hurrying down a busy Philadelphia street. When preparing him for burial, his examiners found a rosary in his pocket, and some pieces of candy – which he always carried to give to the children he might encounter on his way.

Who’s to say that God hasn’t called you to take up St John’s baton and bring a fresh injection of hardy spirituality and authentic morality into America’s youth at the dawn of this new millennium?  If you go to Mass today, listen carefully to the offertory prayer: “… look upon the gifts that we present in the memory of Christ your Son. Form us in his likeness as you formed St John, who imitated what he handled in these holy mysteries…” It is not a bad program of life, that, and I will join my prayers to St John’s, asking God to show you how to build up the faith of your peers, and not flee from the battle.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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