Remembering Father John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000)

Dr. Robert Hickson                 27 December 2018 Saint John the Evangelist

Epigraph

Any developments?” (Jesuit Father John A. Hardon’s first question and memorable customary greeting, spoken often in his low-toned voice whenever we spoke together, either by phone or again in person.)

***

After recently receiving some appreciative comments about Father John Hardon’s memorable words to me, as they were just briefly circulated on the Internet by my wife Maike, she modestly thought that we might provide more quotes—even as a small tribute to him. She thought that she and I still could—and still should—present some additional instances of Father’s discerning insights—especially as he had freshly expressed them to me down the years (and sometimes, emphatically, more than once) from the late autumn of 1980 up until the time near his death on 30 December 2000.

Thus, I propose a twofold division: first a list of Father Hardon’s specifically remembered words to me; and then a slightly longer presentation of what he told me about some important years in his life (1950 in Rome; in 1957 with the new leadership of the Jesuit Order in the U.S.; 1990-1991 when considering the Final Draft of the New Catechism; and some of his doctrinal work, for example on the Spiritual Works of Mercy with Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

The first list is reported by me, almost always exactly, as Father spoke the words to me, although I cannot repeat his memorable variations of tone in his deep voice—especially not his slow and solemn tone and grave facial expression. In the following list, I have had to resort to a close paraphrase only a few times, especially in his longer expressions. Moreover, there is no chronological or logical rationale in the following list of vividly preserved recollections—some of which my wife and children often hear me use in our daily life.

“What we have is Nature, what we need is Grace.”

“The highest function of Nature is to provide us with clarifying analogies of the Supernatural Christian Mysteries.”

“Love is the willingness to suffer with the beloved, for the beloved, and—most painfully—from the beloved…. Hence also sometimes even from the Church.”

“Archbishop Fulton Sheen also often spoke of the tragedy of wasted pain. Often enough, those in hospitals did not offer up their pain and consecrate their own suffering in a Christian sacrifice.”

“Suffering is the consciousness of pain; sacrifice—Christian sacrifice—means the consecration of suffering.”

“We are only as courageous as we are convinced…. But what are we truly convinced about?”

“Meekness is not weakness.”

“We have to use our temper not lose it.”

“A temptation wouldn’t be a temptation if it weren’t attractive.”

“As to our purpose in life, we are to live and to die supernaturally alive in the state of Sanctifying Grace.”

“We shall finally be judged by how many people we have helped get to heaven.”

“Sanctifying Grace is to the supernatural life of the soul what the soul is to the natural life (and form) of the body: the two principles of life, supernatural and natural. As in Anima forma corporis est.”

“Grace [i.e., “sanctifying grace”] is Glory begun; Glory is Grace perfected: Gratia est gloria incepta; gloria est gratia perfecta.”

“But the basis of unity is truth. Why do you think I have been working with Mother Teresa?”

“We are witnessing a massive effort to remake our historic Faith.”

“Walter Kasper does not even believe in the Incarnation.”

“In practice, perhaps the hardest thing for me to do is to be charitable to a public heretic—especially to a heretic priest. Such as my recurrent companion at the Georgetown dinner table, Father Robert Drinan, S.J., who continues to sign and to give me a copy of his most recent book in person, even handing it to me across the table.”

“If it were not for Catholic Christianity itself, which—as in Christian Chivalry—so deeply respects and honors Our Lady, there would not be a Feminist Movement today. Just read Vladimir Lenin’s writings on women as published by [Nadezhda] Krupskaya herself, Lenin’s favorite wife, or companion.”

“Irreconcilably so, the Japanese Code of Bushido and the Samurai elite did not have, much less reverence, the Blessed Mother, Our Lady, and thus they are deeply distinct from Christian Chivalry.”

“Hinduism is finally a form of Pantheism where the Atman becomes the Brahman.”

“The days of America are numbered.”

“As with my recurrent Spiritual Exercises, I divide the various creatures in my life into four distinct categories: those creatures who are to be enjoyed; those who are to be endured (tolerated); those who are to be removed; and those who are to be sacrificed (thereby giving up a lesser good for a greater good, or a lower good for a higher good).”

“Without heroic Faith Catholics will soon not be able to endure and survive, much less grow in the Faith and pass it on intact and faithfully—whole and entire– to their own children. I say it again, and earnestly: our Faith, and all of our derivatively cultivated virtues, must become and truly be heroic.”

“The are no such things as Accidents; there are only Acts of Divine Providence.”

“Is sin within the Divine Providence?…. If you say ‘no,’ we have a problem.”

“The comparative word in the Jesuit motto is fundamental and purposive: ‘Unto the greater glory of God’—’Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam.’ We may thus never become complacent, and we may not presumptuously think we have been sufficient. We may always do more. No sloth!”

“Sanctity may also be summed up in one word: ‘More’. Sanctity is disposed to give more, to suffer more, to love more, to endure more, to be more generous, to pray more.”

“When I am discouraged, two passages from Saint Paul always bolster me, fortify me, and they make me more resilient: (1) wherever sin abounds, grace superabounds; and (2) for those who love God, all things co-operate unto the good—and to the greater good. But to love God and even to love the good, means that you must love the Cross—do you hear me? But you must not be—much less remain—a mere amateur in suffering.

“Have you ever wondered why Saint Thérèse of Lisieux—of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face—was also known as the Little Flower? In thinking this morning about the deeper meaning of that title, I thought of a possible meaning for that metaphor and analogy. Flowers are cut for those we love.”

“How many theological virtues did Jesus have? If you do not say ‘one,’ we have a problem. For you would then show that you have not sufficiently understood Our Lord’s Hypostatic Union in the Incarnation. Our Lord had only the theological virtue of charity; He did not need, or have, the infused virtues of faith or hope.”

“In the Final Draft of the New Catechism, it was difficult to see that Christ had added anything essential to what was already said and admired in the Old Testament—even the Eight Beatitudes.”

“The Beatitudes in the New Testament cannot be lived without Grace. It is impossible.”

“My greatest intellectual humiliation is teaching Catholic theology in English, instead of in Latin. For example, how does one teach Grace as ‘a supernatural accident’? What are then one’s first mental associations and images? A crash?”

“An informed Latin American friend once said to me, sometime in the 1950s, and by way of suggestive contrast, as follows: ‘If you take the average Latin American, no matter how unchurched he is, and you scratch him beneath the surface, you will find a Catholic; if you take the average American Catholic, no matter how churched he is, and you scratch him beneath the surface, you will find a Protestant.’ Perhaps it would no longer entirely be the case today [in the 1980s]. What do you think?”

“In the mid-1950s, in its New York office, the Protestant World Council of Churches told me (and my superior from Rome) that, after World War II, they had made a major geographic shift and Grand Strategic decision: to shift all of its main resources and missionary efforts to Latin America. For, they had first seen that the Catholic Church was having much more success in Africa and in Asia.”

“Sometimes I get tired of being good, and even of just trying to be good. But that is a temptation. To be resisted.”

“I wrote almost all my books in front of the Tabernacle.”

“I haven’t gone to Confession yet today.” [Father tried to go every day to the Sacrament of Penance, even when it required driving some distance by car.]

“I’m still wringing pride out of me.”

“You have to endure many humiliations to grow even a little in humility.”

“Early in my priesthood I made a Private Vow that I would always, when at all possible, live in community, in the Jesuit community, despite the trials: ‘vita communis, mea maxima poenitentia.’”

“I also made a Private Vow that I would not waste time.”

“You think you have an irascible temper and fiery anger, but your anger is nothing compared to mine own white-hot temper. Remember that meekness is not weakness.”

“As a novice in the Jesuits, I was at once considered by my fellow novices—and by my novice master—to be ‘an intellectual bully,’ and I was not only severely warned, but almost thrown out of the novitiate in my first month! No one had ever talked to me like that! Thereafter ‘mum was the word’!”

“I think that one part of Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition was that Saint Peter was to go to Rome. Another instance is, I believe, a Corpus of Sacred Music.”

“In solemnly defining in 1950 the Dogma of Our Lady’s Assumption, Pope Pius XII was also trying to show us that this truth could not be supportively found in Divinely Revealed Sacred Scripture, but only as a part of Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition. The learned Jesuit Father, Hugo Rahner, tried to prove this Irreformable Doctrine from Scripture; but he was unsuccessful.”

By way of conclusion, we shall now briefly consider some focal years and some companion transpiring events that were of special import in Father Hardon’s life and loyal priesthood: especially the years 1950, the late 1940s and early 1950s, 1957, 1980, 1990-1991, and the 1980s-1990s (with Mother Teresa and her sisters).

I first met Father Hardon in Virginia in 1980. He was conducting a short day of recollection at a local college. His first words to me were in Sacramental Confession. In the interior forum he asked me whether he could speak with me outside of Confession. Given his solemn tone of voice, for the first time in my life I thought I was not going to receive Absolution. But he wanted to speak with me about “rock music” and its nature and destructive effects—and its then growing permeation, even in monasteries. This discussion began our long association, even our common research and collaborations, also for the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan.

In a few of our conversations about his own life and priesthood, he memorably discussed three things in which he was involved in Rome in 1950, and while he was completing his doctoral dissertation: Pius XII’s canonization of Maria Goretti (24 June 1950); Pius XII’s promulgated Encyclical, Humani Generis (12 August 1950), which is, in part, an updated Syllable of Errors; and Pius XII’s Declaration of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother, entitled Munificentissimus Deus (1 November 1950).

Father Hardon said he was involved with Vatican Radio and the Pope in the Canonization of Maria Goretti, whom the Pope honored as “a Martyr to Purity.” Father never forgot that title.

After Humani Generis came out—though it did not mention any names explicitly—there was a large bitter reaction, as Father Hardon then saw. As an assistant to the Head of the Jesuit Library at the Gesù, he had the unpleasant and insulting task of recalling various privately circulated samizdat-manuscripts written by papally unapproved more modernist authors in light of Humani Generis. Father Hardon vividly recalled many hostile faces in their doorways as they reluctantly gave up the officially summoned texts. (I never saw a list of those texts and suspect authors, if Father Hardon had preserved one for himself, although I think that Hans Urs von Balthasar—then himself a Jesuit, up until 1950—was one of them. In any case he soon left the Jesuits. Another on the list was likely Henri de Lubac, S.J., especially his writings on Nature and Grace.)

The year 1957 was important for Father Hardon, for he places that year as the pivotal time when his troubles more fully arose within the Jesuit Order. For, in 1957 there returned from the General Jesuit Congregation in Rome a new set of hierarchical leaders in the Jesuit Society throughout the United States. Despite Father Hardon’s education and dogmatic specializations, he was, for example, no longer to be allowed to teach Dogmatic Theology to his fellow Jesuits or Novices. Never again.

When I asked him about comparable things in the Jesuit Order in the Northeast of the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, and especially the controversial dogmatic matters of de Ecclesia, in view of the opinions of Jesuit Father Leonard Feeney, Father Hardon claimed not to know of these doctrinal and disciplinary matters. Father only said that those things occurred in the Northeast Jesuit Province about which he had little reliable knowledge. However, Father Hardon’s non-Jesuit friend, Father William Most, had and publicly expressed a very strong doctrinal criticism of Father Leonard Feeney, also after Leonard Feeney (d. 1978) himself, for disciplinary reasons, was no longer a Jesuit.

In 1990, Father Hardon was belatedly asked by then-Archbishop Jan Schotte to be deeply involved in the assessment and writing of the new Catechism, and thus in working, as well, on the accurate translation of its final Latin text. (I was with Father Christoph von Schönborn, O.P., the Executive Secretary of the Universal Catechism, when the Austrian Dominican priest explicitly invited Father Hardon to help translate what would be the final, official Latin text of the Catechism, under Cardinal Ratzinger’s overall management for Pope John Paul II.)

After Father Hardon first read the final Draft in 1990, he was deeply shocked. Truly shaken. He then memorably, and with grave solemnity, said to me: “We are witnessing a massive effort to re-make our historic Faith.” At least three times, he repeated these trenchant words—also in the presence of others, at least twice. I could say much more about this whole matter, but not here. (I have, however, already published some things on this important matter of Father Hardon’s commentary on the Final Draft of the Catechism in the Catholic journal, Christian Order, which is edited by Rod Pead. Please see here Part I and Part II.) It was also in the context of the drafting of this Catechism, with then-Father Walter Kasper’s own welcomed role in it – there was a nervous excitement within the drafting group in Rome about the late arrival of the eagerly awaited Modi of Walter Kasper – that Father Hardon so intensely exclaimed: “Walter Kasper does not even believe in the Incarnation!”

I wish to conclude with one revealing incident Father Hardon very carefully told me about: his trip to Rome with Mother Teresa, with whom he was then closely collaborating. Mother Teresa and Father were inside the Vatican and waiting for the arrival of Pope John Paul II, which was somewhat delayed. Mother Teresa was especially effervescent—”very bubbly,” Father Hardon said. She was expressively going around to the larger audience and speaking “very ecumenically” about Hindus and about “unity.”

Suddenly and very unexpectedly, as Father put it: “A Cardinal spoke to Mother Teresa and very earnestly said to her: ‘But, Mother, the basis of unity is truth.’” Father Hardon would never tell me who that Cardinal was, although I asked him and pleaded with him again and again to do so!

However, after telling me again the unnamed Cardinal’s incisive words, Father Hardon said to me: “Robert, Mother Teresa needed to hear that. Robert, Mother Teresa needs to hear that. Robert, why do you think I am now working with Mother Teresa? Already, for example, I am working on adapted catechetical texts and other aids whereby she and her sisters may also fundamentally teach the spiritual works of mercy, not only the corporal works of mercy, and thereby even expand their own founding charism.”

(Mother Teresa also came to hand out an abundant number of already blessed Miraculous Medals, because Father Hardon had once told her about about a miracle of healing that had occurred to a young boy in coma from a sledding accident—and it was early in Father’s own priesthood. Father Hardon, after once telling me the full story in private when the two of us were alone, said to me: “Robert, that miracle was not for that little boy; that miracle was not for the suffering, loyal family of that little boy; Robert, that miracle was for me: it saved my priesthood.”)

May we now also better consider and more deeply incorporate those brief words from the Cardinal in Rome which were also so important for Father Hardon: “The basis of unity is truth.”

Father Hardon was to enter into eternity on 30 December 2000. But, with his voice and words still vivid in my heart, his poignant death seems such a short while ago. May he now know the more abundant life Christ promised us.

 

–Finis–

© 2018 Robert D. Hickson

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