Friday, January 5, 2018

Memorial of St. John Neumann, bishop

(I John 3:11-21; John 1:43-51)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” writes poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  She continues to name manifold ways from childhood faith to eternal joy in which her love thrives.  There is a similar concentration on the glory of love in the First Letter of John.  Because Christmas is, above all, a testament to God’s love for us, the first reading these days is taken from this work.

John has testified that God is love.  In order to please God then, John indicates that Christians must imitate His loving.  This means that love flows from words into action.  If not, he would say, then it is counterfeit.  The test comes when one sees a member of the community in need.  Just as Jesus gave his life for his followers, one has to assist the needy brother or sister.

Love, like all virtue, is not a habit in the sense that it is performed in a rote way.  It calls for creativity at times, along with care.  This may be why John Neumann is declared a saint.  He came to the New World because the bishop of his native land did not need more priests.  In the United States he first worked in rural areas – offering sacraments, preaching, and training catechists so that the faith might grow.  As bishop of Philadelphia, Neumann founded the nation’s first diocesan school system.  Speaking several languages, he was also able to meet the spiritual needs of the various immigrant populations.