As the Year of Faith draws to a close, World Mission Sunday comes forward to help recharge our efforts to go forth and evangelize! So as we mark this yearly renewal, I’m seizing the occasion to revitalize the voice of one amazing catechist and missionary, Fr. John Anthony Hardon, S.J. You could say I’m doing a paper on a paper to help keep the works of this incredible servant of God alive!
What great timing then, since what I’m most concerned about these days is other people’s faith. Some might say that’s none of my business, but Jesus told us He’ll proclaim us before His Heavenly Father if we proclaim Him before men here on earth. So here I am, Lord!
Jesus’ words are “both a promise and a warning,” says Father Hardon in his article, “Understand Your Catholic Faith or Lose It,” “It is not enough for us to believe. We must labor, dare I say exhaust ourselves, to share the riches of God’s truth with others. No one gets to heaven alone. Either we help others reach their heavenly destiny by our apostolic zeal, or we risk our own celestial destiny.”
The Catechism teaches that no one can believe alone,
“Faith is a personal act – the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act…you have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.” (Catechism, Para. 166)
Fr. Hardon died 13 years ago, but left behind hundreds of writings on our Catholic faith. A Jesuit priest and spiritual director up for beatification, he dedicated his life to the apostolate of writing, teaching and evangelizing. He wanted to reach as many souls as possible. And he did, particularly toward the end of his life, by bringing the faith to our modern world through mass communication. He saw the need for the New Evangelization long before it recently surfaced to the levels of social media.
There’s buried treasure right in front of us on our computer screens. Looking for answers to your faith questions? Pining for a spiritual director who’s trustworthy to help you along your faith journey? You’re a keyboard away! Try Googling, “Fr. Hardon” and whatever doctrine you want to know about. He was a renowned theologian and Master Catechist who never wavered in his loyalty to the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium. He’s an author of over forty major works of theology, spirituality and catechesis and one of the world’s most respected authorities on the Catholic faith. His method of teaching was modern and is easily understood, yet he never held back or minced words. If you’re open to the Holy Spirit, his writings will set you ablaze!
Initially, I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to study one of his textbooks. I recall one evening sticking my face into one, intending to spend an hour. Five hours later I looked at the clock, stunned! This was good news! God continuously tries to get our attention by putting Himself in front of us in countless ways such as this. If only we would cooperate.
How crucial it is to understand our faith so we can pass it on effectively. We not only need to believe the mysteries of our faith – those of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, of the Son of God, the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Seven Sacraments and the mysteries of God’s creating the world out of nothing – we need to grasp them. How do we do this?
In one of his writings, Father tells us that we grow in our faith by making it “more meaningful…more real in our lives.” He recalls the parable of the sower as described by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel,
“The sower went out to sow his seed. It was all good seed, but it was not all good ground on which the seed fell. There were four kinds of ground and only the last soil produced any yield. The first ground on which the seed fell was the pathway. It was hard ground and the seed remained on the surface, just long enough for the birds of the air to come along and eat up all the seed that had been sown. When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable, He told them, ‘…when anyone hears the words of the Kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart’ (Matthew 13:19).”
“There we have it!” Father wrote. “It is both that simple and that tragic. The revealed truth has been sown into our hearts at Baptism. But that was only the beginning. We must do everything in our power to understand what we believe. Otherwise, the devil will come along and steal the faith from our hearts.”
What kind of ground do I plant my seed in, I often wonder. Frequently I find myself defending attacks on our faith from ex-Catholics rather than just sharing it. Do they even know what they’ve abandoned?
There are no rational grounds for giving up one’s belief in the truths revealed by God and taught by the Catholic Church for 2000 years. Father wrote,
“By the end of the sixteenth century, the Protestants who separated from the Catholic Church had no less than two hundred interpretations of Our Lord’s words at the Last Supper, ‘This is my body – This is my blood.’ There is only one meaning to the Real Presence. It is Jesus Christ. It is the Son of God who became the son of Mary, who died on Calvary, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is now on earth in every tabernacle of every Catholic Church in the world.”
“Countless once believing Catholics have abandoned their faith because they did not understand what they presumably believed. What we dare not ignore is the widespread dissemination of untruth…which has penetrated our culture…Our Holy Father speaks of countless consciences being blinded by the deluge of error that is flooding the modern world…is it any wonder that so many Catholics have given up their faith? The wonder is that there are still Catholics who remain faithful to the teachings of Christ and the Church He founded.
“What is the solution? It is nothing less than an organized effort to re-educate people in understanding their faith.”
The New Evangelization!
“Is there anything more precious that we can share with others than this gift of faith? It is the foundation of everything the human heart can hope for. It is the proof that everything in this world is only a means to reach that eternal home where Christ and His Mother are waiting for us.
“Our Lord could not have been more plain when He told us that we are His disciples if we take up our daily cross and follow Him. What is this cross? It is the will of God crossing our wills. We have urges and desires that are contrary to the will of God. We have dislikes, even dreads, that God wants us to accept…Christ tells us, ‘If you abide in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ (John 8:31-32).
“Sacrifice is the surrender of something precious out of love for God…and none is more precious than our own individual self-will. In a thousand ways that we have never calculated, this desire to do my own will, as I want to do it, when I want to do it, for as long as I want – is at the heart of our personality…We are talking about growth in the faith. It is not too much to say that we mature as followers of Christ in the measure that we have learned to surrender this most precious possession of our being.
“As we grow in the understanding of our faith, we grow in our understanding of Jesus Christ. As we grow in understanding Him, we grow in our freedom to love Him with all our hearts and enjoy Him already here on earth, with something of the happiness that awaits us in eternity.”
Once we experience divine happiness, we wear our faith, as I learned teaching Catechism to a fourth grade class. When I asked if there were any questions, a little girl exclaimed without a hitch, “YER goin’ ta HEAVEN!”
That’s the goal!
As links in the great chain of believers, we delight in God’s endless truths! When we shout them from the rooftops, faith tells us God receives them from His children with pride, joy and love returned.