Homilette for Monday, January 5, 2009

Memorial of St. John Neumann, bishop

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17; 23-25)

The gospel passage says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” We should not think, however, that Jesus is beating a retreat. Actually, he is charging to the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves the solitude of the Jordan desert to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is even the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas, the Baptist’s nemesis, can hardly ignore it.

Like Jesus we are sometimes called to show courage. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene or, at least, call for help. More often we exhibit courage by facing difficult tasks with calmness and determination. “When the going gets tough,” an adage declares, “the tough get going.” Courage is the operative virtue here.

St. John Neumann obviously demonstrated courage many times in his life. As a young man, he came to the United States from his native Bohemia. Newly ordained, his territorial parish included all of western New York State! Ordained a bishop, he started the first system of parochial schools and inaugurated eighty parishes in the Diocese of Philadelphia. Courage allows soldiers to conquer fear in battle. It also enables saints to overcome desire for comfort and weariness in daily life.