Frassati Reflection: Feast of St. John Neumann

Do not be amazed, then, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.
—1 John 3:13

Neumann.pngSt. John Neumann experienced the hatred of the world firsthand. As bishop of Philadelphia during a time of heavy immigration in the mid-1800s—and as an immigrant himself—he managed a quickly expanding Catholic diocese while also witnessing anti-Catholic riots, arson of religious buildings, and widespread discrimination. He cared deeply for his flock, and the constant ugliness and vitriol they endured wore upon his spirit. Over time, he became exhausted to the point where he actually wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop. He felt discouraged by the unrelenting hostility he experienced, and he felt the diocese might be better served by a bishop who was not himself an immigrant and a target for discrimination. But Pope Pius IX saw the fruits of Neumann’s work, even if Neumann himself felt as though he wasn’t making a difference. The pope asked Neumann to stay in Philadelphia as bishop and continue the work he was doing.

And so Bishop Neumann pressed on, even when he didn’t see the point. Even when all his hard work seemed fruitless. Even when mobs turned to violence in the streets and the Know-Nothing Party won elections based on explicitly anti-Catholic campaigns. He built new parish churches nearly every month, and he established a parochial school system in Philadelphia to provide for the education of Catholic children, who would otherwise be subjected to discrimination in public schools. He nurtured a community suffering for its faith, and the seeds that he planted have blossomed into a vibrant Catholic community today.

Jesus didn’t promise that all our efforts would be successful. But He did promise that He would be with us, always. Even in our failure. Even in our persecution. He is with us every step of the way, and He points to His own persecution and death on the Cross as a sign to us. When we place our lives in His hands, every humiliation leads to rebirth; every death leads to new life. Like St. John Neumann, may we persevere in serving God’s people, knowing that the Kingdom of God is not built on outward success and esteem but on humble obedience and trust.

The way we came to know love
was that he laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
—1 John 3:16

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