The Spirituality of St. John Neumann
January 5th is the feast of St. John Neumann (1811-1860), a native of Bohemia (a region encompassing the western Czech Republic) who immigrated to the United States. He became a Redemptorist priest and the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. St. John Neumann founded the first Catholic diocesan school system in the U.S. and a new religious institute for women — the Third Order of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Glen Riddle. He is the first American bishop to be canonized. St. John Neumann is invoked as the patron of sick children and of immigrants. Read his complete biography.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. JOHN NEUMANN
Devotion to the Eucharist
St. John Neumann had an immense love for the Eucharist and promoted The Forty Hours Devotion, which was initially treated nonchalantly by the priests in the diocese until huge crowds showed up.
“How much I love You, O my Jesus! I wish to love You with my whole heart; yet I do not love You enough. My lack of devotion and my negligence still haunt me. I have one desire, that of being near You in the Blessed Sacrament. You are the sweet bridegroom of my soul. My Jesus, my love, my all, gladly would I endure hunger, thirst, heat and cold to remain always with You in the Blessed Sacrament…” (St. John Neumann)
St. John Neumann valued suffering and united his sufferings with those of Christ’s on the Cross for the salvation of souls.
St. John Neumann experienced many trials and hardships in his life, some of which included: the isolation in the seminary in Prague, feelings of homesickness when he said goodbye to family and friends, upon leaving his land; dealing with the frigid weather and poor living conditions in the United States, the conflicts and the verbal attacks he experienced as a priest and a Bishop, and the prejudice that was directed at Catholic immigrants at that time. He accepted it all out of love for Jesus.
“The greater our sorrows now, the greater will our joy be hereafter. God would not impose such a sacrifice on us, did he not deem it salutary for us and were he not willing to impart the necessary strength.” (Neumann’s letter to his parents, February 11, 1836)
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. John Neumann demonstrated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, following in the footsteps of St. Alphonsus Liguori. He wrote numerous prayers to the Mother of God, asking her to pray for our intercessions. He avidly took part in Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
“Hail! Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! … Unto us all give strength against our enemies and thine, courage to those that fear, joy to those that mourn, peace to the contrite of heart, and perseverance to the just.” (Neumann’s pastoral letter, The Feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, 1854)
Union with the will of God
Neumann was a practical, down-to-earth man who dealt with the daily difficulties of his country congregation; however, he was not focused on the problems of this world, but fixed his eyes on the glories of heaven. He encouraged his flock to detach themselves from their earthly concerns and to do the same. He consistently sought to do God’s will in all things.
“Deprive me of everything, my God, but not of the desire to unite my will to your will in perfect resignation!” (Neumann’s diary)
Humility and Simplicity
St. John Neumann lived a simple life. As a Redemptorist priest, he took a vow of poverty, which he was released from when he became a bishop. However, he possessed only the bare minimum in clothing and his house was very ordinary. In addition, despite his wealthy large city patrons, he continued to serve the poor of his diocese and avoided being “indebted” to the rich. He lived and died as a humble servant of God. Due to his great humility, he was known as the “Little Bishop.”
“Our great mistake is that we allow ourselves to be deceived by the spirit of worldly shrewdness, the desire for fame, and the love of comfort. We ought to fight the temptation to make spiritual things a means of temporal advancement. The principles of faith fade out of our hearts in proportion as we allow the principles of the world to come in. We place our confidence not in God but in our own intelligence and experience. This, my dear Father, in my opinion, is the cause of all unhappiness.” (Neumann’s letter to Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R., January 30, 1850)
PRAYER FOR HIS INTERCESSION
O Saint John Neumann, your ardent desire of bringing all souls to Christ impelled you to leave home and country; teach us to live worthily in the spirit of our Baptism which makes us all children of the one Heavenly Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the first-born of the family of God.
Obtain for us that complete dedication in the service of the needy, the weak, the afflicted and the abandoned which so characterized your life. Help us to walk perseveringly in the difficult and, at times, painful paths of duty, strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Redeemer and under the watchful protection of Mary our Mother.
May death still find us on the sure road to our Father’s House with the light of living Faith in our hearts. Amen.