The saintly bishop of Philadelphia writes about what our first response should be in the midst of such trials.
St. John Neumann was a holy bishop of Philadelphia in the middle of the 19th century. He was a humble man, refusing honors and privileges, giving everything he had to the poor.
When he was bishop of Philadelphia, it was a difficult time to be Catholic in the United States and the faithful in his diocese were experiencing great struggles. Anti-Catholic riots erupted in his diocese, with many churches and convents being burned to the ground. It was tempting to him to “get out of Dodge,” and he requested a transfer. However, that transfer was denied and so he dedicated the rest of his life to raising up the Church in Philadelphia from the ash heap.
He wrote a pastoral letter to the people of Philadelphia in 1854 that encourages the people to remain steadfast in their faith during such intense trials. Neumann provides profound encouragement and advice that can be used during any trial, especially those that afflict the Church.
Neumann first explains that during any trial, it is our responsibility to keep the faith and worry first about our own salvation.
Contemplating the calamities of every kind that afflict His Church…[the Pope] entreats us to turn now at length to the Lord our God, and be once more His people, to remember the mighty works, the gracious sign of His Divine Presence and protection which in our own times has not been withheld from his Church, to renew the vows of fidelity, love and obedience which we all made when we were adopted into His family. Most earnestly does he admonish us to shake off the torpor of spiritual sloth and religious indifference which like a cancer still eats its way into the heart of Society, “to cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, to walk honestly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness; not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.” (Rom. 13: 12,14)
Christian brethren, if these be times in store for the already afflicted Church of Jesus Christ, in the midst of which, with fear and trembling, we, her children, are to work out our salvation, to whom can we turn with more confidence, than to His ‘divine’ mother whom the Church has never invoked in vain.
But what will prayer, almsdeeds, fasting, even the life-giving Sacraments avail, if we listen not to the warning of out Saviour; if we do not avoid the occasions of sin? “He that loves the danger, shall perish in it” (Eccles. 3:27).
He then advises the faithful to turn to the Blessed Mother, praying to her for protection, asking her in particular to spread her mantle over the Church.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! … Pray for the people. Intercede for the clergy. Protect the consecrated Virgins. Unto us all give strength against our enemies and thine: courage to the fearful; joy to those who mourn, peace to the contrite of heart; perseverance to the just. Let all experience thy protection, Virgin and Mother, through whom the nations are brought to penitence, the demons are put to flight and they that sat in darkness and the shadow of death are filled with the knowledge and the love of thy Only-begotten Son.
Next, Neumann encourages parents to pass on the faith to their children, the next generation who will be responsible for the future of the Church.
Watch over the children whom God hath confided to you, if you would not set the seal to your own condemnation. For Christ’s sake who said -“Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God (Mark 10: 14)- bring them to Him by your good life and holy conversation.
[T]each your children from their earliest years, to cultivate true, filial piety towards [the Blessed Virgin Mary], letting no day pass without respecting the Archangel’s salutation. Encourage them to the sweet task, the salutary practice with the words of Saint Bernard, and may we all remember them: “Heaven smiles, the Angels rejoice; the world exults, when we say, Ave Maria, Hail Mary.”
Neumann reminds us that during any trial the Church may endure, the key is to remain steadfast in the faith. If we can remain faithful to God and lead a life of holiness, passing that on to the next generation, the future will be much brighter and we will be able to persevere through any storm that will buffet the Church.