+ Today's saint, John Neumann was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward to being ordained a priest in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations. Bohemia was overstocked with priests, as was much of Europe, so it seemed that all doors to follow his vocation seemed closed in his face. But John didn't give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishop in America. Finally, the bishop of New York agreed to ordain him. In order to follow God's call to the priesthood, John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land.
In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John's parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor, but that didn't matter because John spent most of his time traveling from village to village, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables.
Because of the work and the isolation of his parish, John longed for community and so joined the Redemptorists, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to helping the poor and most abandoned. John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. He increased the number of Catholic school in his diocese from two to 100.
The ability to learn languages that had brought him to America led him to learn Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch so he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"
John died unexpectedly on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48. To the surprise on many, half the city's population came the funeral. The mayor, police and fire brigades, a brass band, and a battalion of military, civic and Catholic societies were on hand to pay a final tribute. He was buried, as he requested, in the Redemptorist church of St. Peter under the altar of the lower church. He was canonized on June 17, 1977.
The gospel passage today speaks of Jesus calling Nathanael to be one of his apostles along with Peter, Andrew, James and John. Nathanael was the curious intellectual type, as was St. John Neumann. Both set their course following their Lord, Messiah, Master and Teacher. Both were not disappointed in their choice. As apostles they all were sent to teach how God's love entered the world in a very special way on Christmas night and that only those who love in kind are the ones who can understand anything at all about it. May we be among them today! May our loving thoughts, words and deeds prove that we "get" the whole purpose of Christmas – may we spread love, good-will and peace to all we meet as did St. John Neumann of Philadelphia!
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!