Friday, March 19, 2010

A Saint for Modern Times

I do not want to give the impression that because I question the prudence of beatifying John Paul II and have questioned some of the statements of Mother Teresa means that I am opposed to all attempts to canonize modern saints. This is not in any way true. The Church is unfailingly holy, and as holiness is one of the four marks of the Church, we can expect that the means of attaining holiness are and will be present in the Church until the end of time. Consequently, as the Catechism says,

"The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as 'alone holy,' loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God." The Church, then, is "the holy People of God,"and her members are called "saints." By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. "The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history." Indeed, "holiness is the hidden sosome of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history. Indeed, "holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal" (CCC 823, 828).
I would add that the presence of saints among us also signifies God's fidelity and love for the Church, since they are raised up by His providence for the building up of the Church during certain times in history. The Church has never lacked saints and I do not believe that there will ever be a time when the Church will lack saints.

In this post I would like to point out a man whom I believe is a modern saint and who should definitely be canonized. This is none other than Servant of God John A. Hardon, S.J. (June 18, 1914 – December 30, 2000). For me Fr. Hardon is a local saint, as he lived, worked and died only thirty miles from my home. Many people I have met since returning to the Church in 2002 had the blessing of knowing Fr. Hardon intimately. I do not know the extent of which Fr. Hardon's work is known outside of the Great Lakes area, but here is he already revered as a very holy man.

Fr. Hardon was born in Pennsylvania and came from a very devout Catholic family. His father has been killed at a relatively young age in a scaffold accident, leaving Fr. Hardon's mother to care for the family. The faith was an integral part of the Hardon household, and Fr. John tells us that from an early age he felt a draw to the priesthood:

“The most noticeable event of my childhood was my reception of First Holy Communion at the age of six. Sr. Benedicta, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame who prepared us for our first Holy Communion, told us, ‘Whatever you ask our Lord on your First Communion day, you will receive.’ When I returned to my pew after Communion, I immediately asked our Lord, ‘Make me a priest.’ I had only the faintest idea what I was saying, but I never forgot what sister had told us to do. When I was ordained twenty-six years later, my first sentiment was to thank our Lord for hearing my prayers.”
Hardon entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1936 and was soon after assigned the task of training future priests. He was sent to Rome for two years to study theology, where he attained a Sacred Theological Doctorate (S.T.D.) from the Gregorian University in 1951, with a dissertation on the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff in teaching Catholic faith. Regarding his time in Rome absorbing the perennial teachings of the Church, and some of the modernist winds blowing in those years, he said:

“The lessons I learned were invaluable. … It taught me that the faith I had so casually learned could be preserved only by the price of a living martyrdom. This faith, I was to find out, is a precious treasure that cannot be preserved except at a heavy price. The price is nothing less than to confess what so many others either openly or covertly denied.”
Fr. Hardon then began an illustrious teaching career, spanning both centuries and continents. He served as an associate professor of Fundamental Theology at West Baden College, Indiana, from 1951-62, and as an associate professor of Religion at Western Michigan University from 1962-67. Hardon was then sent to teach as a professor of Fundamental Theology at Bellarmine School of Theology, in North Aurora, Illinois, and Chicago from 1968-73. In 1973 he became a research professor at the Jesuit School of Theology in North Aurora. From 1974-88, he taught as a professor of Advanced Studies in Catholic doctrine at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York, and served as a visiting professor of Comparative Religion at St. Paul University, in Ottawa, Canada, from 1968-74. Fr. Hardon also taught as a professor at the Notre Dame Institute, a Pontifical Catechetical Institute, in Virginia, from 1981-1990.

n all of these years, Fr. Hardon never wavered in his orthodoxy and loyalty to the sound teaching of the Magisterium. As he noted about his teaching years in his Spiritual Autobiography:

“All these years of remaining faithful to the Catholic Church in spite of widespread opposition to what I believed, these were the years when I learned clearly and deeply that to remain a bonafide Catholic teacher of Catholic Doctrine was, honestly, the most demanding enterprise of my whole life.”
One of his most ambitious works was his catechetical study program, which later became known as the Marian Catechists. Fr. Hardon developed this program for the Missionaries of Charity after John Paul II asked Bl. Mother Teresa to have her sisters educated as catechists.

Fr. Hardon was a prolific writer. Of his desire to write, he said:

"With God’s grace, I had been motivated since my young years to write for publication. … The single strongest motive in my priestly life has been to put ideas on paper and make them available to potential readers. I can honesty say the underlying motive for doing so much writing has been to reach as many souls as possible.”
Another one of Hardon's ambitious writing projects was the Catholic Catechism (1975), a full exposition of Catholic dogma and morality written at the behest of Paul VI nineteen years before the release of the CCC. Fr. Hardon wrote thousands of articles on everything from demonology to eschatology, metaphysics to mysticism, Communism to education, Mariology to Pro-Life issues. His writings were truly voluminous and stand out for their clear and unambiguous presentation of traditional Catholic truths. For example, when someone wrote to him asking if unity of all Christians could not be achieved without a literal "return" to Rome of Protestants, Hardon shortly but concisely replied:

"Christ wants His followers to be united in faith. But this faith must be founded on the truth. There can be no compromise with the truth. In fact, there can be no real unity which is not based on the truth. The Catholic Church possesses the fullness of God's revealed truth. Christ therefore wants the whole human race to be united in mind and heart. But the mind must possess the truth and the heart must respond to this truth in love. The ecumenical movement is only as authentic as its guiding principles are those taught by the Roman Catholic Church."

Fr. Hardon's views on Traditionalist issues are quite interesting. He seems to have seen radical Traditionalism and the wacky clown Mass as related. The clown Mass causes persons to seek a more reverent liturgy, which can in turn send them to the SSPX. His position was that of many Trads - the SSPX would have no reason to exist if there were not a serious crisis in the identity of the Church.

Regarding the SSPX, it is interesting to note that Fr. Hardon always believed that attending an SSPX Mass did fulfill canonical holy day obligations:

"Now my own opinion which I have been giving now for years. In my judgment, Catholics do fulfill their duty of assisting at Sunday Mass by attending in the Holy Sacrifice a church affiliated with those who are members with a schismatic group like the Lefebvres. But then I also must add the Catholics be sure at those seeing them attending these schismatic Masses are not scandalized into thinking that professed Roman Catholics have given up their fidelity to the Bishop of Rome."
Fr. Hardon reverenced the liturgy and was very sympathetic to the plight of Catholics who were grieved by liturgical abuse:

"[It often happens that] if a Catholic wants to attend a Mass, celebrated with some regard for the lawful norms he would have to drive over a hundred miles to the nearest parish of a neighboring diocese...Not a few Catholics have had to resort to finding a parish somewhere even outside of their own diocese where they can be assured that the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, hear me, both validly and according to the norms of the Holy See."
Fr. Hardon believed the problem was a Eucharistic problem: that all of the disasters in the modern Catholic Church stemmed from a tragic misunderstanding or willful neglect of the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. Therefore, he devoted a large amount of his preaching and writing to defending and explaining the doctrine of the Real Presence. Indeed, it would not be an understatement to say that the inexpressible reality of the Real Presence was the dominant theme of his preaching and writing:

So many people nowadays are speaking about Eucharistic celebration. So few are ever talking about the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the 16th century when Martin Luther and John Calvin broke with the Catholic Church the first thing they did was to change the Catholic vocabulary. Instead of the Mass it became - this is the 16th century- the liturgy, or Eucharist, or Holy Communion, and that is what is happening today. In other words, there is no substitute for understanding the Holy Eucharist as the Sacrifice of the Mass which is, we believe, a representation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. The Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle, in the plainest language I can use, is Jesus Christ. Once even doubts are raised about the Real Presence is it any wonder that so many Catholic Churches either have no tabernacle in the Church or the tabernacle, as I saw in Louisville, is on a window sill out of sight of the congregation, or in a separate place but not in the Church?
Because of his intense prayer life, the clarity and unambiguity of his theological writings, his fidelity to the Church and his life of selfless zeal, I believe Fr. Hardon should be canonized. Do you know what we do not see in any of Fr. Hardon's writings? We don't find any assertions that pagans can speak to the true God by praying to their false gods; we don't find any statements such as John Paul's famous phrase, "May St. John the Baptist protect Islam!" We don't find him, like Mother Teresa, encouraging Christians to pray in Hindu temples, nor do we find any ambiguity or uncertainty on issues like the inspiration of Scripture, the sacrificial nature of the Mass or the necessity of Jesus Christ for salvation. If he had said any of these sorts of things, I would be more reticent in my praise of him - after all, as a very learned theologian, we can easily say that he should have known better had he said any such questionable things. But fortunately he didn't, and for that reason he is an appropriate role model for today. Granted, Fr. Hardon was not a traditionalist, but he did sympathize with those who wanted a return to Catholic Tradition and he seemed to have thought that the aspirations of those who wanted the Tridentine Mass were valid and deplored the unfair labeling of them as "liturgical reactionaries."

So, I'm certainly not opposed to canonizing modern saints. But if we are going to canonize anyone, let's not canonize people who are mixed bags. No saint is perfect, I know; but some people have less baggage than others, and I would feel much better about canonizing Fr. Hardon than many others who have been proposed recently. With Fr. Hardon, despite the imperfections he did have, there are no scandals or quasi-heretical statements to worry about. If we want to canonize someone, let's start with him.

Click here to see the website for his cause, which was begun by none other than Archbishop Raymond Burke. An online compendium of Fr. Hardon's writings can be found here.

Many quotes in this article were taken from Fr. Hardon's talk "How to Cope with Abuses in the Eucharistic Liturgy", found in the Hardon archives here.

1 comment:

Gregory the Eremite said...

He would get my vote. His book "The History & Theology of Grace" is a masterpiece.