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Re-Christianize America: Become a Marian Catechist

by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, D.D., J.C.D.


In his Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, at the close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, our Holy Father invites us, in the words of our Lord Jesus to the Apostle Peter, to “put out into the deep” for a catch. (Lk 5:4) (Novo Millennio Ineunte[hereafter NMI], no. 1a) His invitation is nothing less than a call to meet the challenges of living the Catholic faith in our day with the holiness of life, which is both God’s gift to us and our task: to live fully in Christ, according to the demands of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) (NMI, nos. 30-31)

Referring to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on the universal call to holiness, the call of all Christians to seek holiness of life, according to their vocation and special gifts, the Holy Father wrote:

As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled us to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to repropose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. (Novo Millennio Ineunte, hereafter NMI, no. 31c)

The Holy Father makes it abundantly clear that the great challenges of our time will not be met by some new program but by Christ Himself alive within His disciples through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father reminds us that, when Christ gave us His final mandate, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” He also assured us, “I am with you always to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)

The Ways of Holiness

Our Holy Father goes on to recall the ways of meeting the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” in our day. He tells us that, above all, we must pray, have “that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends.” (NMI, no. 32a) Prayer, as the Holy Father reminds us, is “the very substance and soul of the Christian life, and the condition of all true pastoral life.” (Ibid.)

Within the life of prayer, the “principal attention” must be given to the Sacred Liturgy and, most of all, to Sunday Mass and the observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. The Sacred Liturgy is the source and summit of our life in Christ: participation in the Lord’s Sacrifice, communion in His true Body and Blood, and mission to bring Christ to the world. At Sunday Mass, Christ renews the Sacrifice of Calvary which is the heart of the Christian life and “the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads.” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter “Dies Domini,” 31 May 1998, no. 19) Participation in Sunday Mass and observing the Lord’s Day clearly identifies the Christian in a totally secularized society and safeguards the unity of the Church in a society marked by the “interweaving of cultures and religions.” (NMI, no. 36)

Within the life of prayer, the Holy Father underlines also the centrality of the Sacrament of Penance as the encounter with Christ, “the one in whom God shows us his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself.” (NMI, no. 37) The emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance is critical in addressing a culture which has lost “the sense of sin.” (cf. NMI, no. 37)

The first way to new holiness of life, prayer and sacred worship, respects the truth that our sanctification is God’s work, the work of grace with which we cooperate. Christ must be the source of all our efforts to grow in holiness of life in a thoroughly materialistic and secularized culture. Otherwise, we will fail in our Christian life and mission. Recall the words of our Lord in His final instruction to His disciples:
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5)

We must never forget that the new evangelization of America, the new Christianization of America depends completely on God’s grace sought and given in prayer and worship. Pope John Paul cautions us:

There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing.” (cf. Jn 15:5) (NMI, no. 38a)

In carrying out the mission of Christ in our day, we first renew our life of prayer and sacred worship.

The second way of meeting the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” is, our Holy Father instructs us, nourishing ourselves with the Word of God, handed on to us in the Sacred Scriptures and the Church’s teaching, “in order to be `servants of the Word’ in the work of evangelization.” (NMI, no. 40a) This second way must be a priority in a society which has been dechristianized, thoroughly secularized. In the face of the challenges of our time, the Holy Father issued again the mandate of the new evangelization:

Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Cor 9:16) (NMI, no. 40a)

The renewed life of prayer leads, in itself, to the thirst for renewed knowledge of Christ and His Body, the Church, in order to be a co-worker with Christ in the sanctification of the world.

The Holy Father is careful to point out that the work of the new evangelization does not belong to some special group but “must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God.” (NMI, no. 40b) He tells us: Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves; they must proclaim him. A new apostolic outreach is needed, which will be lived as the everyday commitment of Christian communities and groups. (Ibid.)

In urging the zeal of all in living and proclaiming the faith, the Holy Father calls to mind the example of the martyrs who by the shedding of their blood in faithful love of Christ have been a “seed of life” for the whole Church. He comments:

Perhaps we were too used to thinking of the martyrs in rather distant terms, as though they were a category of the past, associated especially with the first centuries of the Christian era. The Jubilee remembrance has presented us with a surprising vista, showing us that our own time is particularly prolific in witnesses who in different ways were able to live the Gospel in the midst of hostility and persecution, often to the point of the supreme test of shedding their blood … All that remains for us is, with God’s grace, to follow in their footsteps. (NMI, no. 41)

The Holy Father’s words can leave no doubt of the seriousness of the challenge and of the depth of commitment required to meet it.

Marian Catechists and Re-Christianization

Father John A. Hardon, S.J., of blessed memory, because of his strict adherence to the Holy Father’s magisterium and his unceasing apostolic zeal, according to his vocation as a religious and priest, anticipated the Holy Father’s appeal for the new evangelization, the new Christianization of America, by founding the Marian Catechist Apostolate or the Association of Marian Catechists and directing the association until his death in December of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The foundation of the Marian Catechists was a response to the request of our Holy Father that Father Hardon organize a catechetical training program for the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The program for Mother Teresa’s Sisters developed into a program of spiritual and doctrinal formation for catechists in our country and far beyond.

In the case of the Missionaries of Charity, Father Hardon was to prepare the Sisters to evangelize those who had never been taught the Catholic faith in the many missionary regions of the world. In the case of the Marian Catechists, Father Hardon was to prepare lay catechists to evangelize anew those who are Christian in name but do not know their faith or know it very poorly or in a confused way.

The Holy Father makes reference to the importance of such an association in fostering the holiness of life, which will address the challenges to the faith in our time. He writes of a “training in holiness,” “offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations and movements recognized by the Church.” (NMI, no. 31c)

During the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Father Hardon published the Marian Catechist Manual, the vademecum of the members of the Marian Catechist Apostolate. It describes the purpose, formation, spirituality and spiritual practices, theological foundations, scope, means employed, and standards of conduct of the Marian Catechists.

Father Hardon was profoundly conscious of the need of the new Christianization of America, especially through prayer and the sound teaching of the faith. Over the years of his always faithful service as a teacher of theology and master catechist, he witnessed a relentless erosion of the life of prayer and sacred worship, and of loyal adherence to the Church’s magisterium, also on the part of those responsible for the teaching of the faith. Because catechesis is at the foundation of the life of the Church, the collapse of sound catechesis attacked the very foundation of Church life in our nation. At the time of the publication of the Marian Catechist Manual, Father Hardon wrote:

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. (Marian Catechist Manual [hereafter MCM], p. xv)

When we reflect upon the erosion of faith in the Holy Eucharist in our time; the widespread absence of Catholics from Sunday Mass; the loss of devotional life in homes and parishes; the difficulty in finding sound catechetical texts; the confusion in catechetical texts and among catechists about basic Catholic doctrine and practice; the public dissent from Catholic teaching by those who by their vocation have a special bond of obedience to the Holy Father and the Church’s Magisterium; the moral defection of Catholics regarding the evils of artificial contraception, procured abortion, contraceptive sterilization, euthanasia, cohabitation before marriage, and homosexual acts; the open disloyalty to our Holy Father; and the unreadiness of youth to make a lifetime commitment and the ready abandonment of fidelity to promises made before God and His Church, we understand more fully why Father Hardon was so passionate, up to the last days of his life, in furthering the Marian Catechist Apostolate and safeguarding it from erosion by the multiple forces of confusion and dissent in our country.

Father Hardon was equally passionate in insisting that God’s grace is available in super-abundance for us to meet the grave crisis of faith in our time and in our country, and to move beyond it through a new teaching and living of our Catholic faith. The example of the early Christians who faced fierce persecution in teaching and practicing the faith was his inspiration in calling for a no less heroic witness on the part of Marian Catechists. He worked tirelessly so that the Marian Catechist Apostolate might tap “the infinite storehouse of graces” which God provides for us at this critical time in the life of the Church.

The Marian Catechist Apostolate responds precisely to the principal ways which our Holy Father sets forth in Novo Millennio Ineunte for the new Christianization of culture. The Marian Catechists are, first of all, formed in prayer and sacred worship, and in the spiritual life.

When the Marian Catechist begins the Basic Catholic Catechist’s Home-Study Course, authored by Father Hardon, he or she also makes privately the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, following Father Hardon’s manual. The spiritual practices of the Marian Catechists respond fully to the Holy Father’s program of holiness of life, of meeting the “high standard of ordinary Christian living.” According to the stages of formation, Marian Catechists participate in daily Holy Mass, if possible. They pray five decades of the Rosary daily and recite the Angelus at least twice a day. They are to have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance twice monthly, if possible. They participate in the Apostleship of Prayer by making the Morning Offering. Each evening, they make an examination of conscience and pray the Act of Contrition before retiring. They are also to spend ten minutes in spiritual reading and ten minutes in meditation daily. The meditation is often based on the spiritual reading. Eventually, too, the Marian Catechists are to make the Way of the Crosseach day. In the ongoing formation, or lifelong formation, as Father Hardon called it, four qualities are sought: 1) Study of the Word of God; 2) Familiarity with God; 3) Spirit of Prayer; and 4) Self-Detachment. Referring to the General Directory for Catechesis, Father Hardon reminds us:

Our spiritual life is the principal textbook from which we are to instruct others in the Catholic faith. (MCM, p. 46) The Marian Catechist Manual gives a description of the four spiritual qualities which the Marian Catechists seek.

The doctrinal formation of the Marian Catechists is provided through Father Hardon’s 16-lesson Basic Catholic Catechist’s Home-Study Course and the 36-lesson Advanced Catholic Catechist’s Home-Study Course. These courses provide a complete and systematic study of the doctrine of the faith. They are based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In order to assure the correct understanding of the content of the courses, there are questions posed at the end of each unit. The responses are sent to a central office, at which they are corrected. Explanations of the correct answers are provided.

After completing the Advanced Course, the Marian Catechists are encouraged to complete Father Hardon’s course on the Spiritual Masters. They are also encouraged to deepen their knowledge and practice of the faith by studying Father Hardon’s writings and listening to an excellent series of audiotapes produced by Eternal Life. Eternal Life has published a number of Father Hardon’s books, including his very helpful Modern Catholic Dictionary. Eternal Life is in the process of publishing Father Hardon’s unpublished manuscripts. Ave Maria University Press has published earlier this year his volume on the Eucharist. Soon it will publish his volume on the history and theology of grace. The resources available to the Marian Catechists for doctrinal formation are more than sufficient and are thoroughly reliable, coming from the hand of Father Hardon.

With regard to the methodology of catechesis, the Marian Catechists study the General Directory for Catechesis, using a commentary which I have prepared and Father Hardon approved for the use of the Marian Catechists. It, too, has a series of questions at the end of each unit, to which the catechists respond, in order to assure their correct understanding of the material.

At the completion of the study of the Advanced Course and the Commentary on the General Directory for Catechesis, if the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius have been made and the candidate is following the spiritual practices of the Marian Catechists, the candidate makes the Consecration of Marian Catechists. The text is found in Father Hardon’s Catholic Book of Prayers, published by Eternal Life. The Consecration is made to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Blessed Mother who first brought the Incarnate Word into the world, conceived under her heart, leads the Marian Catechists to unite their hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so that they may be true and loyal co-workers with Christ in bringing God’s truth and love into the world. Only by uniting their hearts ever more intimately to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the inexhaustible font of life for the Church, will the Marian Catechists have the inspiration and strength to carry out their critical mission for the new Christianization of America. Father Hardon writes:

Marian Catechists, therefore, are to engage in extending the Kingdom of Christ here on earth, in order to extend His dominion over the hearts of men in the Kingdom of heaven for all eternity … The key work in the apostolate of the Marian Catechists is to make God known through Christ so that knowing God, people might love Him, and loving Him might serve Him, and serving Him might save their souls. (MCM, p. 10)

Contemplative Marian Catechists and Associates

Father Hardon made provision for both active and contemplative Marian Catechists. In fact, there may be many who receive the formation of the Marian Catechist and follow the spiritual practices who, for one reason or another, may not be active catechists. As Father Hardon points out, all the members help each other:

Those engaged in the active apostolate need the prayers and sacrifices of the spiritually contemplative … Without the active apostolate, the Marian Catechists would lack the scope and purpose for their existence. Without prayer and sacrifice, Marian Catechists would lack the supernatural means and resources to reach the souls of those who are being catechized. (MCM, p. 21; cf. also MCM, pp. 3 and 89)

Father Hardon also provides for Marian Associates who are unable to meet the requirements to be a Marian Catechist but “want to assist the apostolate of Marian Catechists by providing regular financial or other support.” (MCM, p. 90) The apostolate is of such importance and faces such challenges, that it needs the cooperation of many to fulfill its purpose.

Mary, Model Catechist

Father Hardon has placed the Marian Catechist Apostolate under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary whom the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes with these words:

But the Blessed Virgin is not only a pattern; she is the perfect model of what every catechist in the Catholic Church should be. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2030)

Our Blessed Mother is the one who most perfectly communicates Christ to the world by her vocation and mission of Mother of God. Her obedience to the will of God, and her complete and faithful discipleship of her Son, God the Son Incarnate, make her the model and the chief intercessor of those who consecrate themselves as Marian Catechists. Father Hardon identifies three qualities of Mary which make her the model of catechists:

  • Mary’s clear and unquestioning faith;
  • Mary’s union of prayer with the Heart of her Son; and
  • Mary’s plain and courageous living out of the will of God in her life. (MCM, p. 32)

It is these qualities, which must be the foundation of anyone who undertakes the apostolate of catechesis, that the Marian Catechists aspire to imitate.

The motto of the Marian Catechists is the words which our Blessed Mother spoke to the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” (Jn 2:5) (cf. MCM, p. 1) Every Marian Catechist prays to do all that Christ asks and to lead those catechized to do the same.


The Psalmist cries out in Psalm 11, “if the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do.” (Ps 11:3) Our Holy Father provides us the answer: pray, study God’s word and teach others the Word of God. The foundations which are catechesis in the Church have been attacked and weakened, but they can be built up anew and strengthened. The Apostolate of Marian Catechists sets forth as its purpose to do just that.
I conclude with the words of Father Hardon from the Introduction to the Marian Catechist Manual:
Pray for the grace to be part of this great movement. There is no requirement to leave your profession, quit your job, or move to a new location. The early Christians succeeded; the Marian Catechists can, too! (MCM, p. xvii)

Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.

Address delivered at The Church Teaches Forum, Louisville, Kentucky, August 11, 2001