Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Mass for the 200th Anniversary
Celebration of the Birth of
St. John Nepomucene Neumann
Prachatice, Czech Republic
June 18, 2011
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Dear Bishop Pad’our, Bishop of this local Church,
Your Eminence, Cardinal Vlk and dear Brothers in the Conference of Bishops,
Distinguished Public Authorities,
Men and Women Religious,
Lay faithful and Friends in Jesus Christ,
It is a great joy for me to come to you as the Extraordinary Envoy of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. It is in his name that I greet all of you and assure you of his spiritual closeness to you and of his deep love for you in Christ Jesus our Lord. What a blessing it is to observe the 200th anniversary celebration of the birth of St. John Nepomucene Neumann here, in this City of Prachatice, where he was born, reared, educated and formed in our holy Catholic faith! We raise our voices in thanksgiving to God for the gift of so great a saint, and we praise God for all the rich fruits of Christian living which during the centuries have been nurtured in this blessed land, the Czech Republic.
I am deeply honored to have been appointed by our Holy Father as his Legate. The role of the Papal Legate is to represent his person and, particularly, to express the sentiments of love which bind him to all of you. Pope Benedict XVI is united with you in spirit and in prayer as you venerate the memory and honor the many accomplishments of St. John Neumann. To all gathered here, the Holy Father imparts his apostolic blessing.
As Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia, I am honored to be the eighth successor of St. John Neumann. For me, this anniversary celebration shows how deeply the City of Prachatice-indeed the entire Diocese of Ceské Budejovice -and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are united by the legacy of a humble Bishop whose only aspiration was to live the fullness of the Christian life and to communicate Jesus Christ to his brothers and sisters. This bond was made concrete to me in April 2010, when Bishop Pad’our and a delegation from the Diocese of Ceské Budejovice visited Philadelphia. I was delighted to welcome them and I am now greatly honored to be so warmly welcomed here in the homeland of St. John Neumann.
I carry with me the sentiments of esteem and the prayerful regards of the people of Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love, the birthplace of the United States of America, is the final earthly home of St. John Neumann. For eight years, he tirelessly served the Church in Philadelphia as our fourth Bishop. He accomplished so much through his zeal for parish life, his dedication to Catholic education, and his burning love for the Eucharist. His shrine, located at the Church of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia, is a place of devout pilgrimage. Thousands of people continue to seek the intercession of our beloved “Little Bishop,” and the faithful of Philadelphia remain grateful to the people of Prachatice for the great gift of your heroic and beloved native son.
As St. John Neumann exercises his role as an icon in the history of America, he also forever symbolizes unity and hope, reconciliation, and the freedom enjoyed by the children of God. European history has been greatly enhanced over the years by the people of Bohemia, of Moravia, of Czechoslovakia, and now of the Czech Republic. My own country, too, has benefitted by the presence of so many people of Czech origin who brought with them strong faith and other gifts that render honor to the culture of their native land.
In the generous heart of John Neumann there stirred a concern for the human and religious needs of people of various ethnic backgrounds. The son of a German father and a Czech mother, young John was devout, inquisitive, studious, and indeed generous in his desire to know, love and serve God. Once he recognized his call to the Priesthood, he fully acknowledged that this call would lead him away from the family whom he loved so much, and from this City, which he greatly cherished, in order to serve the family of God as a missionary priest.
In our Mass today we hear the beautiful announcement of the Prophet Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation” (Is 52:7). How often, as a missionary priest in New York, as a Redemptorist, and as a Bishop of a vast territory did John Neumann bring joy, consolation and peace to the many and spanerse people whom he encountered daily. Truly, he proclaimed God’s marvelous deeds to people of all nations. In order to do this, he learned other languages. In addition to his native Czech and German, he spoke English, Italian, French, Spanish and Gaelic, so that he could minister to as many people as possible. His desire was to share with all the message of Christ Crucified, whom he proclaimed as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24).
The desire of John Neumann to reach out to all people speaks eloquently to the men and women of our time. The 20th century was scarred by so much violence and spanision, conflict and pain. Within the hearts of multitudes of people of good will, there is now, however, a desire to mend breaches, to heal wounds, to build bridges and to foster harmony and peace. Here, in our own time, great effort is being made to promote collaboration between neighbors, between the Czech and German peoples-both so dear to St. John Neumann-and how commendable is the work of those dedicated to this cause! The labor and mission of St. John Neumann demonstrate how we encounter the face of Jesus in all our brothers and sisters.
As a young priest, John Neumann engaged and spent himself in a vast missionary work. His situation moved him to recognize the need for community within his own life, and he was drawn to enter the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Founded in the 18th century in Naples by St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Redemptorists were particularly dedicated to preaching to the poor. John Neumann was the first Redemptorist to be professed in the New World.
When he was chosen to be Bishop of Philadelphia, John Neumann selected as his episcopal motto, “Passion of Christ, strengthen me.” (“Passio Christi, Conforta Me”). In his prayer he derived deep strength from the Cross, from the Passion and Death of Jesus. In moments of worry, in the face of difficult decisions, in times of tribulation, St. John Neumann would speak to the Lord saying: “Worn out by the struggle I will rest beneath Thy cross. I embrace it.”
Of St. John Neumann, it is said that he spared himself in nothing. He understood, as Jesus teaches in the Gospel, that “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Lk. 6:38). To all, he gave abundantly of himself and he did so in imitation of Christ Crucified. On the Cross, Jesus poured out the infinite mercy of God. St. John Neumann proclaimed and disbursed that mercy in his work, in his sacramental ministry, in every aspect of his brief life.
Today, dear friends, 200 years have passed since the birth here in Prachatice of St. John Neumann. The life and teaching of our saint are more relevant than ever to the world. But certainly he has a special message of encouragement and blessing to you, his own people, to whom he is forever closely linked by his birth. The voice of this humble missionary Bishop, your fellow countryman, a great saint of the universal Church, reaches you strong and loving. He exhorts you to live the fullness of the Christian life according to the great traditions of holiness in your land, and he pleads with you to share with others the great treasure of your faith: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary and the Savior of the world.
For the youth of this land the Church presents St. John Neumann as a model of courage and an example of perseverance. Once he had said yes to God, St. John Neumann never wavered; he never drew back. Less than two years ago Pope Benedict XVI personally addressed the youth during his visit to the Czech Republic. At that time he used a beautiful expression, telling the young people that the Lord “knocks at the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend. He wants to make you happy, to fill you with humanity and dignity. The Christian faith is this: encounter with Christ, the living person who gives life a new horizon…” (September 28, 2009). Although this phrase is not a quotation from St. John Neumann, it expresses so well what the Saint of Prachatice and “the Little Bishop” of Philadelphia has to say to youth today. Actually these words apply to all of us as laity, clergy and religious, youth and adults, the married and the single, mothers and fathers of families, workers, the rich and the poor, the sick and elderly, and all categories of God’s people-because through our use of freedom we embrace the faith and encounter Jesus Christ, and in Him find joy and true and lasting happiness.
St. John Neumann, on this blessed occasion of your anniversary celebration lead us now to recommit ourselves to our holy Catholic faith, to Jesus Christ, to His Gospel and to His Church. Help us to experience, as you did, the strong maternal care of Mary the Mother of God, and help us know and appreciate ever more that great source and summit of all Christian life, which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Amen.