Monday, January 7, 2013

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, My True Love Said to Me....

This past Saturday, January 5, the twelfth day of the Christmas season, was the Feast Day of St. John Neumann. The child of a German father and a Czech mother, Neumann was born in Bohemia (which now constitutes the  central and western portions of the Czech Republic). He knew early on that he wanted to be a priest. I was intrigued to learn that, as a seminarian, his studies included not only theology but also astronomy and botany. In 1836, he came to New York, where he was finally ordained a diocesan priest in June of that year. In January 1842 he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, a community of priests and brothers known as the Redemptorists. He remained in the United States for the rest of his life, dying suddenly on January 5, 1860.

There are several ways in which, in a sense, our paths have crossed.

(1) The parish of which I am a member bears his name.

(2) Like my polyglot father, Neumann learned languages with ease, eventually hearing confessions in at least six languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, and Gaelic.

(3) In 1852, four years after becoming a U.S. citizen, Neumann was made Bishop of Philadelphia, where I spent more than twenty of the earlier years of my life. During his tenure, he built dozens of churches and nearly one hundred schools. His body is buried in Philadelphia, at a shrine dedicated to his memory.

(4) In 1976, shortly before I was received into the Roman Catholic Church at Temple University's Newman Center, the Center's new building was dedicated. Cardinal John Krol presided over the dedication ceremonies. During the reception that followed the dedication Mass, the Cardinal wandered among the participants introducing himself. When he encountered me, he asked, "Is your name Dolores?" When I replied that it was not, he told me he had been watching me sing in the choir during the Mass and had wondered if my name was Dolores because I had "such sad eyes." He then handed me a small plastic box containing a medal a little larger and fatter than a silver dollar. On one side was a picture of the Cardinal, on the other, a picture of then Blessed John Neumann, who was fully canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1977.

In a sermon titled "God's Will the End of Life," Neumann spoke of the question that some of us have asked after realizing "the vanity and unprofitableness of the world": "Why then am I sent into it?"
"The world professes to supply all that we need, as if we were sent into it for the sake of being sent here, and for nothing beyond the sending.... O this curious, restless, clamorous, panting being, which we call life!—and is there to be no end to all this? Is there no object in it?...

"If there was one among the sons of men, who might allowably have taken His pleasure, and have done His own will here below, surely it was He who came down on earth from the bosom of the Father, and who was so pure and spotless in that human nature which He put on Him, that He could have no human purpose or aim inconsistent with the will of His Father. Yet He, the Son of God, the Eternal Word, came, not to do His own will, but His who sent Him.... He came on earth, not to take His pleasure, not to follow His taste, not for the mere exercise of human affection, but simply to glorify His Father and to do His will. He came charged with a mission, deputed for a work; He looked not to the right nor to the left, He thought not of Himself, He offered Himself up to God.... He sacrificed every wish of His own; that we might understand, that, if He, the Creator, came into His own world, not for His own pleasure, but to do His Father's will, we too have most surely some work to do, and have seriously to bethink ourselves what that work is....

"God sees every one of us; He creates every soul, He lodges it in the body, one by one, for a purpose. He needs, He deigns to need, every one of us. He has an end for each of us; we are all equal in His sight, and we are placed in our different ranks and stations, not to get what we can out of them for ourselves, but to labor in them for Him. As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also."
He ended this sermon with a prayer:
"O my Lord and Savior, support me in that hour in the strong arms of Thy Sacraments, and by the fresh fragrance of Thy consolations. Let the absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me, and Thy own Body be my food, and Thy Blood my sprinkling; and let my sweet Mother Mary breathe on me, and my Angel whisper peace to me, and my glorious Saints, and my own dear father ... smile on me; that in them all, and through them all, I may receive the gift of perseverance, and die, as I desire to live, in Thy faith, in Thy Church, in Thy service, and in Thy love."
May this desire and this end also be ours.

Amen.

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