Father Hardon and Saint John Neumann
Memorial Mass for Father John A. Hardon. S.J.
Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke, D.D., J.C.D.
Today, we celebrate the memory of Saint John Neumann, a Redemptorist priest who was Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 until he died in 1860. Saint John Neumann was an exemplary shepherd of the flock in many ways. One of the most outstanding aspects of his pastoral care, of the Diocese of Philadelphia, was the establishment and promotion of Catholic schools. He saw the Catholic school as a particularly apt instrument of the teaching of the faith and its practice. He was most correct in his thinking and action, for young people will not come to know the faith and practice it unless we teach them with sound doctrine and sound example of life. The Catholic school provides the greatest possibilities for the Church to work with parents in the handing-on of the faith and its practice to their children.
- It is most fitting that our memorial Mass, to mark a year since the death of our beloved Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J., coincides with the memorial of Saint John Neumann. Like Saint John Neumann, Father Hardon understood the fundamental importance of the sound teaching of the faith and its practice, sound catechesis, especially through the Catholic schools. He founded two apostolates directed exclusively to the teaching of the faith. Eternal Life Publications makes available important texts and audiotapes to help us to grow in the understanding of the Catholic faith. Many of the resources have been prepared by Father Hardon himself and reflect his deep concern to communicate the faith with the greatest care, and in its entirety.
He also founded the Marian Catechists, an association of the faithful, dedicated to providing catechists with the doctrinal and spiritual formation required to be faithful and effective in their apostolate. Father Hardon was himself a master catechist, and he applied his deep practical understanding of catechesis to the spiritual formation and doctrinal preparation of the Marian Catechists. His last work to be published before his death, on December 30, 2000, was the Marian Catechist Manual, a complete guide for those who wish to consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as Marian Catechists.
- Father Hardon understood the urgency of the new evangelization to which our Holy Father Pope John Paul II has been insistently calling us. The new evangelization, is teaching and living the Catholic faith as if for the first time, with the ardor of the first Christians and of the first missionaries to our continent. The new evangelization responds fully to the situation of our society which was once Christian, but has now become totally secularized. In the “Introduction” to the Marian Catechist Manual, Father Hardon wrote:
“We live in the most highly educated nation in world history. But, except for a small remnant, most Americans are abysmally ignorant of God’s laws and His promises…Catholicism is in the throes of the worst crisis in its entire history. Unless true and loyal Catholics have the zeal and the spirit of the early Christians, unless they are willing to do what they did and to pay the price that they paid, the days of America are numbered.” (p.xv)
Father Hardon understood that it would be through catechesis that children and young people and adults would be formed in the understanding and the will to evangelize our world, to transform our world into a civilization of love.
How blessed we have been to receive Father Hardon’s spiritual direction and instruction in the faith! As we lovingly recall his memory, we ask that we may follow in his way of evangelizing the world, the way of the Marian Catechists, the way of teaching the Catholic faith with the urgency which our times require. The memory of my last visit with Father Hardon, just two weeks before he died, remains forever emblazoned on my mind. The noble apostle and catechist, being drained of his last energies by the disease of cancer, had only one concern: the vocation to which God had called him and the apostolate which God had entrusted into his hands. He wanted only to talk about what we could do together to further the apostolate of the Marian Catechists.
- The Gospel today helps us to understand the meaning of the life and vocation of Saint John Neumann and of our beloved Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Our Lord Jesus Christ, from the first moment of His public ministry, began to call certain of His disciples to a distinct vocation, the vocation of an apostle, of one who acts in the person of Christ, Shepherd and Head of His Body, the Church, in each of her communities. In today’s Gospel, our Lord calls Philip and Nathanael with the unmistakable invitation, which He issues to one called to be an apostle: “Follow Me.” With Philip and Nathanael, as with all of the apostles, our Lord called them to follow Him most closely, to share His life, so that He might prepare them, spiritually and doctrinally, for their mission as bishops of the Church. The apostles, faithful to the will of our Lord, called co-workers, priests, to participate in their sacred ministry on behalf of all God’s people.
Both Saint John Neumann and Father John A. Hardon, S.J., heard Christ’s call: “Follow Me.” Through their years of seminary study and formation, Christ prepared them for ordination, so that they might act in His person as shepherds of the flock. With the call, Christ gives the grace to respond to the call, faithfully, throughout a lifetime. Today, we praise and thank God for the call which He gave to Saint John Neumann and to Father John A. Hardon, S.J., and for the abundant graces which He showered upon them, so that they might carry out the heavy responsibilities of their priestly vocation. We praise and thank God that they were faithful teachers of Christ, who, by giving their lives in our service, as pastors of the flock, in the words of Evangelist John, in his First Letter, taught us to love “in deed and in truth and not merely talk about it.”(1 John 3:18)
- Let us pray today that we may imitate the zeal of Saint John Neumann and Father Hardon, in teaching the faith to all. Let us pray for the grace to evangelize our world and culture with the zeal and energy of the first Christians, of the first missionaries to our continent. Father Hardon offers us words of hope, firmly founded on the grace of Christ at work in us for the salvation of the world:
“The early Christians succeeded; the Marian Catechist can, too!” (p. Xvii)
If we give ourselves to a deeper spiritual formation and to a fuller understanding of our faith, God will not fail to give us the grace to teach and live our faith in a world forgetful of God and of His commandments.
- Our Lord Jesus now comes to us. The bread and wine which we will now offer will be changed at the words of consecration into the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus. As we welcome our Eucharistic Lord into our midst, may we also be transformed, through the grace of the Holy Eucharist, so that we may witness more completely to Him in our daily lives and so evangelize the world.
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, patron of Marian Catechists, pray for us.
Saint John Neumann, pray for us.
Given January 5, 2002 at Saint James the Less Catholic Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin