Fr John Hardon’s Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Fr John Hardon’s Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

Father John Hardon SJ, Servant of God, 1914-2000, was a great man. With parents like his, it’s no wonder.

When he was still an infant, his father, who was a construction worker, was killed in a workplace accident. He apparently sacrificed his own life to save the lives of his colleagues.

To honour her husband’s memory, and the heroism of his death, Mrs Hardon resolved she would never remarry. So she scrimped and saved and struggled to support herself and her young son. As often happens, material poverty and solid faith produced spiritual riches.

Fr Hardon’s earliest memory is accompanying his mother on all-night vigils before the Blessed Sacrament. He would be tucked up, asleep on a pew, and wake occasionally to find his mother always in the same position — kneeling next to him, head bowed in adoration, deep in prayer.

Some Lutheran schoolgirls boarded with the Hardons, which provided some income. When he was still young, John demanded to know why they got to eat meat on Friday, and he did not. Mrs Hardon discreetly raised the issue with the girls and their parents. The girls would have to adopt the Catholic practice, or find somewhere else to live. The girls wished to stay, and their parents agreed. The girls were like sisters to John, whom he loved and admired. He attributed his early positive exposure to the Lutheran faith to a lifelong interest in ecumenism, long before it was mainstream.

After his ordination, he was sent to Rome to study theology, and he became an expert in Protestantism and in the oriental religions. Fr Hardon was a hard worker, a clear thinker, and a brilliant one at that. From what I’ve read, it could be fair to say that he is the English-speaking world’s answer to Joseph Ratzinger. By that I mean: Pope Benedict is the greatest theologian alive today, and the outstanding Catholic thinker of his generation. What can be said of Ratzinger at a universal level, may be said of Fr Hardon in the smaller pond of the Anglosphere.

Fr John Hardon, Servant of God

Fr John Hardon SJ, Servant of God

Unfortunately, Fr Hardon was a casualty of the culture wars which raged throughout the post-conciliar Church. He was deemed to be too conservative and divisive by his superiors, banned from teaching, and effectively exiled. (That happened to many Jesuits in the 80s and 90s. Pope Francis suffered a similar fate in the decade following his term as Argentine superior general. It was only his episcopal appointment which lifted him from obscurity.) Nonetheless, Fr Hardon’s marginalisation in America didn’t inhibit fruitful collaboration with three popes.

With Pope Paul VI, Fr Hardon produced The Catholic Catechism (1975), which was the normative English-language catechetical text until the Holy See produced a definitive Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. (Fr Hardon contributed to that project too.) When Pope John Paul II asked Mother Teresa to expand her ministry to the poor to include catechesis and evangelisation, he referred her to Cardinal Ratzinger. Ratzinger, in turn, referred Mother Teresa to Fr Hardon, who worked closely with the Missionaries of Charity for many years, developing catechetical means which are still in use.

Apart from his scholarly virtues, Fr Hardon was by all accounts a holy priest. He had a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, which isn’t surprising in view of his mother’s example. He was widely sought to lead retreats, hear confessions, and minister spiritual direction. His cause for canonisation was opened in 2005.

Fr Hardon’s scholarship, his catechetical expertise, and his interior life conspire to recommend, I think, his Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan (Amazon listing). This book-length plan was published in 1989, and it’s not so much a list of books as it is a list of 104 authors he recommends Catholics read.

I ordered this book several weeks ago, but I’m still waiting. I’m looking forward to learning why Fr Hardon recommends the authors he lists. He profiles each author in two or three pages, and includes their most recommended writing. Apparently the book also includes an exhaustive bibliography, with the details of all the significant works of each author. In the meantime, I’ve made do with the bare bones: names of the authors and the books Fr Hardon especially recommends.

You can download the document, or read it online:

  • Jonathan Aquino has blogged a very short profile of each work.
  • I can’t vouch for the historical categories of authors. These are Fr Hardon’s categories, but I’ve had to guess where they fit. For example, I presumed that Fr Hardon numbered St Thomas More as the last of the medievals, and St Ignatius Loyola as the first of the Counter-Reformation authors. But until I receive my copy of The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan, I can’t corroborate that.
  • The green authors and titles are cross-reference to an alternative Catholic lifetime reading plan I’ll post tomorrow.
  • Some of the titles are accompanied with a book symbol. This annotates a novel! (See yesterday’s post: The thrilling romance of orthodoxy.)

The thrilling romance of orthodoxy

The thrilling romance of orthodoxy

During my Evangelium presentation on Monday, I spent only half my time presenting two alternate versions of a “Catholic lifetime reading plan.” (I’ll post them here tomorrow.)

The rest of my presentation was spent extolling the virtues of fiction, and novels in particular. A good novel, I’d argue, reveals ‘hidden truths’ about ourselves and the world. Novels can engage in a sort of hyper-realism, which is both real and unreal. The novelist can imagine the perfect set up of characters and dilemmas, which may never occur in the real world, but which reveals a reality that we can all recognise: truths which resonate, but which are somewhat obscured in real life. The best fiction is every bit as formative and educational as non-fiction.

I think Graham Greene illustrates this perfectly. By way of example, we can consider some non-fiction first. Poetical non-fiction, certainly, but non-fiction nonetheless. Here’s an extract from Chesterton’s famous essay on orthodoxy:

People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.

The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles . . .

It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame.

But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.

Chesterton calls on the development of Christian doctrine to illustrate his claim that orthodoxy is a “thrilling romance,” and a “whirling adventure.” But the drama and complexity of Catholic doctrine, as it is lived in individual lives, is more beautifully illustrated in Graham Greene’s so-called “Catholic novels.” Greene explores “the dangerous edge of things” — the dramatic tension which arises when humanity’s freedom to reject God meets God’s infinite love and mercy. Greene is able to concoct dramatic thrillers from the ingredients of Christian orthodoxy.

Fr John McDaniels shows how in the latest issue of The Priest, which is the journal of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic ClergyThe Priest is a subscriber-only journal, although articles are freely available online twelve months after publication. In this instance, as editor I’m making an executive call to make this article available now. It is, after all, an extract from a paper Fr McDaniels delivered many years ago. It makes engaging and entertaining reading, and I’m sure it will compel many readers to acquaint — or reacquaint — themselves with Greene.

Enjoy! Download graham-greene.pdf or read online:

Filipino “culture wars”

Filipino “culture wars”

Sandro Magister is always worth reading. In his latest (translated) post, he addresses the present legal battles in the Philippines, which has pitted the Catholic president against the bishops conference.

The president has pushed forward the legalisation of contraception, which the bishops fought both in the public arena, and in the courts. It was a lost battle — and it was always going to be a lost battle — but should the bishops have fought it anyway? That’s the great debate — one which also impacts the Australian bishops, for example, when ‘gay marriage’ returns to the political agenda.

Fr Pierre de Charentenay SJ, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and resident in Rome, recently published a book on the Church in the Philippines which raises a very different question.  He is critical of the bishops for employing religious arguments to state their case:

The bill was contested on June 18, 2013, before the supreme court, which […] hesitated for a long time. It was under the pressure of the Catholic Church, which was against the law. But it also knew that it had to take into account the new climate of a society that had become modern and pluralistic. […]

The first topic of discussion concerns the separation between religion and political decisions. It is clear that the Church, speaking to Christians and to public opinion, insists on important questions, the value of life, human dignity, a certain vision of man. Its principal argument, however, is religious. But in the present-day society of the Philippines, it can no longer be supposed that all are Christian. A diversification of opinion exists that prevents the imposition of Christian law, in the same way that it would prevent the imposition of sharia in Malaysia or Indonesia, or in the south in Mindanao. […]

In other words, the Filipino bishops need to get with the program and employ the same secular approach which has been tried and failed in the West. This is not only ineffective, but also, I think, dishonest. Environmentalists employ environmentalist arguments to state their case. Capitalists employ economic arguments. Religious lobbyists should employ religious arguments.

I’ve blogged about this before. Here’s Gerard O’Shea’s take:

When Catholics confine themselves to naturalistic arguments, they deceive no one. Secularists – who argue from their own perspective of “belief” – are able to accuse their Catholic opponents of having a hidden agenda, and of lacking the courage of their convictions by concealing what really motivates them. Any movement away from this situation is likely to be met with derision. Nevertheless, while neither Christians nor Secularists should impose their political views on others, Catholics should feel free to mount the full range of their arguments in public and should reject the notion that they are bound by rules of engagement set by their intellectual opponents.

But Fr de Charentenay’s critique gets worse. Much worse. He not only accepts but co-opts the Filipino government’s argument that liberalising contraception is a matter of social justice; a much needed service to the poor. It will “limit population growth and promote … quality of life.” And now for the extraordinary bit — the bishops should support the liberalisation of contraception because it will reduce the abortion rate:

[The bill] also responds to the desire to avoid the use of abortion as a means of contraception. […] In the discussion, the Catholic Church never mentions the proliferation of abortion, a reality decidedly more serious than the contraception it is fighting. The two things are connected, because abortion is the means for avoiding birth when contraception is not used. The greater evil follows the lesser evil.

In this sense the RH Bill seems to be a pro-life piece of legislation, in terms of both quality of life and anti-abortion politics.

Fr de Charentenay is right that abortion and contraception are connected, but not in the way he thinks. Bad Catholic does an excellent job analysing the studies and statistics which indicate that contraception increases the abortion rate. And you can’t go past Janet E. Smith for a more philosophical account of the phenomenon.

Fr de Charentenay claims that Pope Francis is on his side, but then all Catholics are wont to claim that the pope is on their side! Sandro Magister argues that the pope — who has probably read the book — has indeed taken the side of Fr de Charentenay, since he has not publicly rebuked the book. But I’m not convinced of that. The Holy Father extolled Humane Vitae during his trip to the Philippines, so it seems to me that in this instance, he has “sided” with the Filipino bishops. In other words, the pope has “sided” with the Catholic moral tradition.

What astonishes me — I am absolutely gobsmacked — is that Fr de Charentenay, a serious-minded Catholic, resident in the West, with all the benefits of hindsight, doesn’t recognise the devastating causal relationship between contraception and abortion. As Smith so succinctly puts it:

“Far from being a check to the sexual revolution, contraception is the fuel that facilitated the beginning of the sexual revolution and enables it to continue to rage.”

Love of Australia

Love of Australia

George Bernard Shaw was a famous playwright and political activist who was committed to socialism. His influence was at its height during the first half of the twentieth century.

Shaw is also remembered as the most worthy of G. K. Chesterton’s interlocutors. They were constantly disagreeing with each other in public, but they were also good friends. They were both very witty, and they delighted in controversy. Shaw was tall and lean – a bit like Abraham Lincoln. Chesterton was also tall, and very rotund. He was a big man in every sense.

During one public debate, Chesterton observed, “I see there has been famine in the land.”

Shaw replied, “And I see the cause of it.” He continued, more cruelly now: “If I was as fat as you, I’d hang myself.”

Chesterton didn’t hesitate: “If I were to hang myself, I’d use you as the rope!”

I mention all this, because one of the debates between Shaw and Chesterton relates to patriotism. Which means it relates to what we’re celebrating today: Australia Day.

One of George Bernard Shaw’s most famous quote – certainly his most memorable – arises from his socialist ideology:

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

This is an internationalist sentiment. It’s borne from the idea that the state exploits its citizens, but still arouses their love, by stirring up “love for country.” Hence a good socialist despises patriotism.

Chesterton, being a Catholic, valued patriotism. But he wasn’t in complete disagreement with Shaw. In fact, he shared with Shaw a very low opinion of the nationalism which passed for patriotism in his time, and ours. Consider his most famous quote on patriotism:

‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’

He elaborates in his essay, ‘A Defence of Patriotism’. A truly patriotic love of country – a truly Catholic love of country – doesn’t resemble a boy’s love for jam. It’s not an uncritical love. It’s more like a boy’s love for his mother. It is respectful and it is loyal, even when the times are bad. But it is never indifferent. Patriotism compels us to support our country, which includes doing everything we can to correct its course when it falters.

Patriotism also compels us to be grateful for our country. To give thanks to God for Australia, through which we have received many blessings. It also means that we ask God to bless Australia anew, just as we’d ask Him to bless our mothers.

Hence the collect in the Australia Day Mass:

Grant we pray, O Lord our God,
that as the Cross shines in our southern skies,
so may Christ bring light to our nation,
to its peoples old and new,
and by saving grace transform our lives.

Catholic digital media down under

Catholic digital media down under

Ten days ago nominations were called for the inaugural Southern Cross Catholic Digital Media Awards. I wasn’t aware of this until nominations were closed, and nominees were announced today.

I’m a bit embarrassed that this blog has been nominated in the Most Inspiring category. I don’t set out to inspire, but evidently at least one reader has been inspired. I suppose I should be grateful to God, not embarrassed!

You can’t help your gut responses, but nor should you give them unthinking assent. In this case, I’m publicising the nomination, and the awards, because there are many excellent nominees who deserve wide exposure. Some, I had never heard of. Others are old favourites. I recommend you discover them all for yourself.

You can review the nominations at restlesspress.net. Voting closes at midnight New Zealand time, on 31 January.