In America it isn’t easy being Catholic. Christmas always makes this particularly obvious as we’re bombarded things we must buy, movies we must see and parties we must attend. Even the best in our culture would have us believe that the true meaning of Christmas is spending time with family. The belief in America as the land of opportunity has often been twisted into the idea that America is the place for me to live my life and further my material interests.
But this was not the belief of early Americans and it was certainly not the belief of our American saints. To the American saints, providing opportunities was even more important than seeking opportunity. Not only in the Jesuit missions of the north east or the Franciscan mission of the south west, but also in the large and small cities, the Gospel was spread to those who would hear it, the sick and the poor were tended to, and the uneducated were educated.
January 5th is the feast of St. John Nepomucene Neumann. John was born March 28, 1811 in what is now the Czech Republic. Even at a young age he was a talented student and it was no surprise that he was accepted into seminary despite great competition. When it was time for John to be ordained his bishop died and all ordinations were canceled. Unwilling to give up his vocation he traveled to New York where the diocese was in dire need of priests. He was soon ordained and sent to Williamsville, NY where he tended to the spiritual needs of over a hundred German speaking families. Not satisfied with helping just local Catholics, Fr. Neumann started saying Masses in the frontier towns, traveling the countryside with candles and a chalice on his back.