Father John A. Hardon, Master Catechist and Founder of the Marian Catechist Apostolate
by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, D.D., J.C.D.
International Director of the Marian Catechist Apostolate
On December 30 of 2000, our inspired and beloved founder, Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J., was called home by God the Father. Father Hardon worked tirelessly to the end in carrying out the mission which God had entrusted into his hands at his religious profession and at his priestly ordination. I was privileged to visit with Father Hardon on December 16 and 17 of 2000, and was deeply edified by the faith with which he accepted the intense suffering of his last illness and by the dedication to the apostolate which he unfailingly expressed. His last words to me were: “Bishop, will you continue to work with me?” For Father Hardon, the work which God had given him was to be carried out with every ounce of his energy and at every moment of his life. Even at the end of his earthly days, Father Hardon was offering his suffering for the sake of the apostolate.
As we recall the memory of Father Hardon, let us ask God for the grace to imitate Father in our dedication to the apostolate of handing on the Catholic faith and its practice to our brothers and sisters, especially the children and young people. Let us pray for the grace to “continue to work with” Father Hardon in the apostolate of catechesis.
Father Hardon frequently spoke about our need to be martyrs in a world which is without faith in God. Ours will more than likely be a “white martyrdom,” witness given by complete fidelity to Christ in our vocation in life and in our apostolate of catechist. While we may not be asked to shed our blood, our witness will cost us dearly in sacrifice and suffering for love of Christ and His Church.
As International Director, I underline the two irreplaceable foundations of the life of the Marian Catechist. The first is spiritual formation. The catechist cannot give what he or she does not have, namely a deep love of Christ. Only by a sound spiritual formation are we prepared to hand on the faith to others.
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius are the first and most important step in the formation of the Marian Catechist. Once they have been made, they become the permanent measure by which the catechist strives to grow in the spiritual life.
The Holy Eucharist on Sunday and during the week (as often as possible) is the heart and soul of the spiritual life of the Marian Catechist, for the Holy Eucharist is communion with the true Body and Blood of Jesus Whom we serve. The daily morning offering, examination of conscience and regular Confession, devotion to our Blessed Mother (the daily Rosary and the Angelus at least twice a day), daily spiritual reading and meditation upon it, and the daily Way of the Cross are the principal spiritual practices which inspire and fortify the Marian Catechist.
Secondly, the catechist must have a deep knowledge of the Catholic faith, a sound doctrinal formation. The love of Christ and His Church, fostered by the spiritual life, naturally leads the catechist to desire an ever deeper understanding of the faith. The Basic Course and the Advanced Course of Father Hardon are the reliable means to achieve the appropriate formation in Christian doctrine. To them is added the study of the General Directory for Catechesis, with the help of the Commentary which I have developed with Father Hardon’s approval, to prepare the Marian Catechist adequately in the method of imparting the knowledge of the faith and its practice.
For ongoing doctrinal formation, Father Hardon has left us the Spiritual Masters Course and several audio albums. They include: The Blessed Sacrament, The Sacraments and the Marian Catechist, The Profession of the Roman Catholic Faith, Catholic Sexual Morality, The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Angels and Demons.
I close by expressing my deep joy at the dedication which you, who are in the various stages of formation as Marian Catechists, show to the apostolate of catechesis which is at the foundation of the life of the Church. I very much look forward to celebrating a day of prayer and of consecration (for those who have completed the spiritual and doctrinal formation) this year. Let us pray that it will be a powerful time of grace for Marian Catechists, so that we may serve the Church ever more faithfully and generously by teaching the faith and its practice.
Be assured of my prayers for you and for those whom you teach the faith. Please keep me in your prayers.
Originally published in The Tilma, Spring 2001