Homily for the Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop
Preached on January 5, 2009 at Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary Church, Lexington KY
Readings: 1 John 3:22-4:6; Psalm 2:7bc-8, 10-12a; Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
Jesus could have learned from what had happened to John the Baptist. He could have picked up that proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom would also land Him behind bars. He could have packed His things then and gone home to Nazareth. He could have been discouraged by the turn of events, and yet He wasn’t. Instead of trying to save His own skin, Jesus went on harm’s way to preach and say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). Instead of sticking to His comfort zone, He went to Galilee of the Gentiles, to the people who sit in darkness, to those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death (Mt. 4:15-16). Instead of being discouraged by John’s arrest, He was inspired to go forth and do the will of His Heavenly Father. Three years after He first preached the Gospel, He was arrested by the authorities and was nailed to a cross.
John Neumann could have learned from what had happened to Jesus. He could have picked up that proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom would also get him into a whole lot of trouble. But, instead of giving up on his vocation to the priesthood, he left his homeland, a country that was overstocked with priests, and went to America, a place he had not seen, a nation that even then was hardly Catholic. He could have been discouraged by the demands of missionary work in the United States and packed his things and gone home to Bohemia, and yet he persevered. Instead of giving up on ministering to new Irish immigrants, he learned Gaelic so that he could hear their confessions. Instead of giving up on the overwhelming task of teaching the Faith, Bishop Neumann increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to 100. Instead of being discouraged by Christ’s cross, he was inspired to go forth and carry his own cross. Twenty four years after he was ordained in America, he suffered a stroke and died alone on a snow-covered sidewalk in Philadelphia.
We could learn from what had happened to John the Baptist, John Neumann, and our Lord Jesus Christ. We could pick up that proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom is a very dangerous and demanding activity, even in our own time. We could learn from what had happened to them how to fear some of the repercussions of preaching the Good News: getting arrested, dying on a city sidewalk, being crucified. We could be discouraged by their stories, and yet we are not. Instead, John the Baptist, John Neumann, and our Lord Jesus inspire us because we learn more from them than from what had happened to them. We learn from John the Baptist how to have the courage to stand up for what is right. We learn from John Neumann how to have the zeal to share the Good News of our salvation to everyone, regardless of age, language, or nationality. We learn from our Lord Jesus how to love without ever holding anything back, how to love even our enemies.
We could learn from what had happened to Christ and His saints and then live in fear on this earth. But why would we do that? Instead, we can learn from them the conviction that, in spite of everything that this world has to offer, the Kingdom of Heaven is still worth it all.