Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

A Giant Of Faith Passes To God

by Barbara Middleton


Barbara Middleton, a close friend of Father John A. Hardon, S.J., reflects upon his grace-filled life and his selfless service to God and the Catholic Church. This article is followed by two book reviews written by Fr. Hardon shortly before his death.

Larger Work

Inside The Vatican


36 - 39

Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, New Hope, KY, May 2001

Father John Hardon (1914-2000) died at age 86 last year (December 30). Often received in the Vatican, he was a selfless priest who worked tirelessly to build God's kingdom in thought, word and deed. He will be sorely missed.

During his productive, long and grace-filled life Father John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000) won praise as theologian, author — he wrote more than 200 books — a true son of the Church, an old-time Jesuit, and one of the great catechists of the 20th century.

Those who worked closely with him and knew him best constantly pointed to his priestly qualities, his faith, his tireless striving, even when elderly and ill, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ "in season and out of season."

It was under direct orders from the Holy See that he, with many volunteers, established the Marian Catechists, a lay apostolate dedicated to teaching a doctrine, theology devotion, and Marian catechetical formation to evangelize the world. One of the defining qualities of Father Hardon's long life was his commitment to "think with the Church" ("sentire cum ecclesia") and his loyal obedience to the Magisterium right up to his death.

Father Hardon's painful death from bone cancer on Saturday, December 30, 2000 at the Jesuits' Colombiere Center near Detroit, Michigan was widely reported by the secular media.

The holiness of his life receive less notice, but those surrounding him especially stressed the piety of his life. His secretary, Marie Coules, summarized for friends and associates his thinking and actions during those days.

She reports even when crippled with pain he continued to celebrate his daily Masses, to assist the Chaplain in anointing the sick, and to carry Holy Communion to those confined in bed.

He held monthly meetings and continued even up to the last couple of weeks before he died to keep in contact with the bishops, priests, sisters and laity, with whom he worked so closely.

His pain never caused him to miss an opportunity to save a soul.

As is inevitable among the aged, physical problems were many and Father saw many different specialists. The medical people, however, were all evangelized by him. Many nurses and doctors were touched by the way he endured pain and by his heroic patience.

A week before Father Hardon's death, he was hospitalized; the test results showed that his cancer had spread, yet even then he did not complain.

Father Hardon's best known book is The Catholic Catechism, which continued to be valuable to many Catholics even after the official Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1994.

His fellow Jesuit, long-time collaborator and friend, Father Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, compared Fr. Hardon to St. Peter Canisius, the Dutch Jesuit who wrote an influential catechism after the Council of Trent. "I think Father Hardon has done in the 20th century what Canisius did in the 16th," Fr. Fessio said. He added: "He was a great example of the old-time iron-man Jesuit. He was a man of prayer, and he never stopped working."

Father Hardon wrote an elementary school religious textbook for the "Christ Our Life" series in 1976. It is today used by some 600,000 in the United States.

He was instrumental in founding the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, an organization of American Catholic sisters, and was a spiritual director to Mother Teresa of Calcutta in her later years, and to many lesser-known Catholics.

Jay McNally, executive director, of "Call to Holiness," a prominent Catholic movement in the United States, said Fr. Hardon lived what he taught. "He spoke of sacrifices, suffering, humility and faithfulness, and people could see the sacrifices, suffering, humility and faithfulness in his own life," McNally said.

After graduating from John Carroll University in Cleveland, he joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a Jesuit on June 18, 1947. He later earned a master's degree in philosophy from Loyola University in Chicago and a doctorate in theology from Gregorian University in Rome.

Marie Coules described a sense of being blessed to be with him during the last few months of his life.

"Arising from his bed he would begin to teach on one of the three favorite topics: the crucifixion, death, and suffering. He prayed short aspirations repeatedly, 'Jesus I trust in thee,' 'Jesus I love thee,' along with other prayers. He loved to venerate the crucifix and his last few days at Colombiere he would run his hands across Christ's body touching His holy wounds, while someone read to him, from his Meditations on the Cross. In his room hung a large close up of the Jesus-Divine Mercy picture, which he venerated throughout his last days. Many rosaries, hymns, Slavic Christmas songs, Divine Office and Divine Mercy chaplets were prayed at his bedside in his last days.

"On the Tuesday before he died he had been given medication which elevated the pain, and he began to say, 'More! More! More!'

"The volunteer asked, 'More what Father?'

"'More suffering!' he said.

"On Friday a rosary had been given to him which he held onto tightly in his left hand, until he entered eternal life on Saturday."

Barbara Middleton, an American, was a personal friend of Father Hardon.

Two Of Father Hardon's Last Writings

A few months ago, Father John Hardon wrote to our American colleague Mark Drogin, editor of a series of books we are bringing out. Though in his mid-80s, Father Hardon set other work aside to finish two reviews in view of our new editions, just recently published. Here, posthumously, we print Father Hardon's brief letter and his two reviews. — The Editor

Dear Mark:

Enclosed are the two reviews which you asked me to write. You may be surprised at how quickly I responded. There were two reasons. I believe both books should be republished in the near future. They are excellent. Moreover, this is my way of showing my appreciation for all that New Hope has done for the Church for so many years.

I trust that these reviews will be satisfactory, and that the quotations, especially from The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God are not too long. Father Quay was a genius, and this book, which he wrote should be widely circulated.

The Nazarene I had read years ago. It also needs to be read and meditated on as a masterpiece of insight into the providential role that believing Jews have in bringing the world to Jesus Christ. You and your family and co-workers have the assurance of a special place in my prayers.

In our Lord,

John A. Hardon, S.J.

P.S. If I may, I would like to keep both books. However, if you need them, just let me know and I will return them post-haste.

The Nazarene

Israel (Eugenio) Zolli, was the chief rabbi of Rome and a convert to Catholicism. Born in Brody, Austrian Galicia, in 1881, he died in Rome in 1956. His original name was Israel Zoller. After graduating from the University of Florence and the Rabbinical College of that city, he became chief rabbi of Trieste in 1914, where he changed his name to Zolli.

From 1930 to 1938 he taught Hebrew at the University of Padua and in 1939 advanced to the post of chief rabbi of Rome. When the German army occupied Rome in September 1943, Zolli in vain advised the Jewish community to disperse. Not sharing the optimism of other leaders and under pressure from friends, he himself went into hiding, where he remained effectively active, satisfying, with financial assistance from the Vatican, the ransom that the Germans demanded from the Roman Jews. On February 13, 1945, after Italy had been liberated, Zolli entered the Catholic Church.

His conversion attracted international interest, and some of his former coreligionists attributed it to base motives. Zolli's baptism, however, was clearly an ultimate result of his ardent interest in Jesus Christ. The charity of Pope Pius XII, whose baptismal name he chose, contributed much to his conversion.

From 1945 almost until his death he taught Semitics at the University of Rome and the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Best known among Zolli's numerous writings are The Nazarene, and Before the Dawn: Autobiographical Reflections.

The Nazarene, was written shortly before his conversion to the Catholic Church. It is an unusual book, especially because it concentrates on the one word "Nazarene."

This word is highly significant because Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament. St. Luke identifies Nazareth as the home of Mary and Joseph, as the scene of the Annunciation, and where Jesus grew to maturity. But the quotation in Matthew from the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene," is not found in the Old Testament.

Still, that does not deter Zolli from devoting almost 60 pages to analyzing the significance of the title "Nazarene," as applied to Jesus. He concludes, "The name that really was His and distinguished Him from all others, and which most probably sprang up spontaneously from the living speech of the time, was 'Nazarene.'"

The second major theme of Eugenio Zolli is Messianism. In one long declarative sentence, he states, "The greatness of a people is not measured by the greatness of their conquests, by the number of the nations they have subjected to their rule, by the vastness of the land they have occupied, the number of enemies they have slain and the people they have exterminated, but by the greatness of the sufferings they have themselves endured and by the spiritual gain born of suffering. From this point of view Israel is a great people. The greatness of their sufferings shines in the majesty of their Messianism."

In the mind of the author, the Jewish people are destined to bring the knowledge of the Messiah to the whole world. It is not only something, which took place two millennia ago. The words of the ancient prophets are a "perpetual source of wisdom and are all — all those that are not today shall be tomorrow — itinerant carriers of that great light that the Lord has lit in the souls of the seers of Israel."

Eugenio Zolli is at pains to bring out how the teaching of Christ surpasses that of the Old Testament. Speaking of judging other people, "The Rabbinic world regarded judging and being judged as necessary . . . The Gospel teaching, on the contrary, comes to the conclusion that we should not judge at all."

This is one of the main themes of The Nazarene. Christ elevated the morality of the Old Law in a way that only a learned rabbi who became a Christian would understand. Zolli synthesizes this principle in one sentence: "The wonderful Sermon on the Mount, one of the fairest jewels of the Holy Gospels, is at the present time occupying the scientific interest of scholars."

No wonder. The Beatitudes are a summary of Christ's elevation of Jewish ethics to a height never before known to the human race. This, for the best of reasons, because the Son of God not only preached the Beatitudes, but lived them as a model of how we are to follow His example.

The former chief rabbi of Rome is especially clear in relating prayer and penitence. He tells us that, "The Christ who silently gave Himself to prayer and meditation in a remote corner of Palestine, was sensitive to the echo of the penitential preaching of John the Baptist. Penitence and purification are two allied concepts . . . Only one who feels the weight of the world's sins can appreciate the imperative need of purification. Penitence is purification in practice." That is why God became man, in order to expiate the sins of the human race by His own suffering and death.

Eugenio Zolli could not be clearer on what Jesus did at the Last Supper. From the New Testament accounts of Christ's institution of the Eucharist, "we learn that Jesus, taking bread and giving it to the disciples, pronounced the words: 'This is my body,' and handing them the chalice, said: 'This is my blood,' The bread and wine which had been changed into His flesh and His blood, serve also to indicate the fellowship between Jesus and His disciples." In fact, Holy Communion not only indicates this fellowship: without the Eucharist, there would not be a fellowship between Jesus Christ and His followers.

The whole of Eugenio Zolli's The Nazarene is a masterpiece of contrast between pre-Christian Judaism and Christianity. He closes the book by contrasting the prophet Job with Jesus Christ. His closing paragraph deserves to be memorized. "Job," he says, "does not wish to suffer; he suffers because he cannot escape his sufferings. He is a victim by necessity. The Servant of God, who is Jesus Christ, suffers because He wishes to suffer, in order to blot out the sins of others. Job submits to a destiny. The Servant of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, undertakes the act of a voluntary, expiatory sacrifice. And in Him, it is God who offers Himself and suffers."

This book deserves to be read and reread. It teaches us that the man whom His contemporaries called "the Nazarene," is our Creator, who is teaching us how we His creatures can return to the God from whom we came. — John A. Hardon, S.J.

The Mystery Hidden For Ages In God

Paul M. Quay, S.J., was one of the most brilliant students I taught in a Jesuit theologate. He already had a doctorate in physics before he began his study of theology. Over the years, until his premature death, he did not publish extensively. But certainly, The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God is a synthesis of his superb understanding of the Catholic Faith and one of the great books of the second half of the 20th century.

The more than 400 pages of this volume are an answer to the question which the author raises in his introduction. It is worth quoting in full: "Why should spiritual growth, my own and others, be so slow? Why do some priests or religious seem to go backwards rather than forwards? Why do many Catholics, even priests and religious, seem to lack the close personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is so visibly operative in the lives of many believing Protestants despite the greater spiritual opportunities given the Catholics? After Vatican II, why did so many priests and religious leave their consecrated life to live as laymen — or even abandon the Church altogether — and this, after many reasonably productive and apparently contented years under their vows? Why are Christians often more easily led into moral evil by the surrounding culture than are, say, Orthodox Jews? Again, all these are simple variants on the basic question: how should Christians grow spiritually, how do they, and why the difference?"

Having raised the question, Quay admits that it cuts more deeply and more terribly than it first appears. Then he adds, and again he is worth quoting at length: "Our century has been drowned in blood: the hundreds of millions of infants aborted; the far fewer, though still many millions, slain by Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Pol Pot; the other millions killed in the two World Wars and the swarm of lesser conflicts; to say nothing of the victims of the internal collapse of family life and its replacement with gang life, drugs, and 'virtual reality.' Our century has seen a Christianity seemingly no more powerful to save from such evils than scientific progress, the achievements of technology and philosophical argument together. The question, 'When confronted by such evils, where is Christianity and its vaunted power to change the hearts of men?' is answered quickly by 'Nowhere' or 'Collaborating with the evildoers.' But what is nowhere is discarded as nonexistent; what collaborates with evildoers is fought aggressively in order to destroy it. Hence, the current mixture of indifference and hostility."

I thought it was worth quoting at some length from Fr. Quay's deeply thought out work on Christianity.

He analyzes the faith which he deeply believed into three parts of an equal length. The first part he calls Adam and Christ: Original Sin; the second part is on Recapitulation in Christ; and the third part is on The Church, the New Israel.

The author is perfectly frank in discussing the problems that original sin raises. Not the least of these is how the whole human race could penalized for the disobedience of our first parents. The full answer is, of course, a mystery. But one thing we must not forget: every grave sin is devastating in its consequences. In the case of Adam and Eve, the consequences were not only for our first parents, but for all their progeny until the end of time. How this needs to be emphasized in our day, when whole nations are suffering the penalty for the sinful behavior of those in positions of authority in modern society!

The second part of Father Quay's book is on recapitulation in Christ. Through 200 pages of carefully organized thinking, he analyzes the role of Christ in fulfilling the prophesies of the Old Law. Understandably, the author concentrates on St. Irenaeus (died 202 A.D.) for his exposition of this important subject. As the Church has understood Irenaeus, Christ not only redeemed the world by repairing the damage done by the fall of the human race. He did more: by assuming human nature the Son of God recreates and renews creation. His is not only head of the Church, which He founded; he is also king of material creation and keystone of the universe. In a way beyond our comprehension, the world has not only been redeemed but marvelously improved. Why? Because God took on a created humanity and, as a result, provided such potential for progress in creation as would have been inconceivable except for the Incarnation.

Every major issue of the Old Covenant reveals this wonderful promise of recapitulation. But it also shows what needs to be courageously faced by the true followers of Christ. No less than the faithful Jews before the Savior had to suffer for their loyalty to Yahweh, so faithful Christians have to suffer for their fidelity to Jesus Christ. Once more an apology for quoting two lengthy paragraphs verbatim. They should be etched in bronze.

"To an even greater degree, Catholics who have matured to this point have always been forced into a ghetto — often enough by their fellow Catholics. This is not usually a constriction in living quarters but of exclusion from the exercise of their competencies in dealing with the issues that most concern their lives, their country, and the Church. Though they may think that they are bumping into invisible walls, set up to keep them out of positions of influence, more often it is they who are invisible. They are passed over and ignored by people who may have no dislike for them but who sense them as strangers to the life of the world around them.

"This is not directly a matter of their own choosing. Like most men, they would like to have some effective say in the running of their world. Their exclusion results from their choice to stay close to the Lord. Those who are less mature, like the earlier Jews, think that compromise is possible — and often it is, if one considers the matter abstractly and without realizing the intrinsic corruption of all men by sin. Hence, those less mature do not understand the somewhat distant and reserved coolness or even hostility of someone more mature towards the objects of their enthusiasms. They consider 'getting ahead' a benefit not only to themselves but to the Church, and are puzzled by those who do not. They fail to see that the world lets them get ahead — unless the Lord Himself intervenes — only insofar as they serve the world's cause, first unconsciously, then with increasing awareness. But those of that maturity with which we are here concerned know clearly enough that 'friendship with the world is enmity with God' (Jas 4:4) and leads ultimately to betrayal or apostasy."

What are we being told? That Christians have a very simple but awful choice, either to remain faithful to the Savior and pay the price or remain Christians only in name and be rewarded by the same world that crucified their Master.

The author's third and closing part of The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God is entitled "The Church, The New Israel." All that was said so far is now summarized in the prospects for Catholic Christianity in the future. Whatever else professed members of the Roman Catholic Church need, they need to learn from the past. They dare not compromise their principles with the world, which, Christ made so clear, was hostile to the Gospel. But even more important, they cannot by ordinary Christians. No way!

They have two crucial responsibilities, one for the mind and the other for the will. They must understand their faith, deeply and clearly, as never before in the history of Christianity. The world in which they live is an academically sophisticated world.

But that is not all. They must live their faith by using their wills to practice the one virtue on which Christ tells us our eternal destiny depends. Christians must love God, which means the God who was crucified on His cross to teach us that we must be crucified on our cross. Christians must love others, especially those who do not love them. As the Savior made so plain, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if we have love for one another."

— John A. Hardon, S.J.

© 2001 Robert Moynihan

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