Mother Teresa, Father Hardon, S.J.,
and the Marian Catechist: Service to Souls

by Francis Lum, Consecrated Marian Catechist

In the summer of 1997, I had the opportunity to accompany Father John A. Hardon S.J., to Washington D.C. to meet with Mother Teresa, and later in November, to Calcutta, two months after Mother Teresa entered into eternity. Father Hardon had been teaching the Missionaries of Charity since the beginning of his association with Mother Teresa, and the teaching trip to the motherhouse in Calcutta had been a yearly event. However, this 1997 trip was somehow very special. It was after the death of Mother Teresa, and it was the longest trip, nearly six weeks, compared to the usual one or two weeks, and was very providential, since it was Father Hardon’s last trip to Calcutta.

Sister Frederick, the co-foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, requested Father spend as much time in Calcutta as possible; for with Mother gone, they needed him more than ever. Father agreed to give a retreat to the Tertians, who were about to take their final vows, and classes to a small group of senior sisters (most of them superiors of the local communities). He also taught a few classes to the Missionaries of Charity Contemplatives in Calcutta. (The Contemplatives have always had a special place in Father Hardon’s heart.)

The retreat lasted nearly two weeks, with three conferences per day and private conferences and confessions. Father held four classes a day, Monday through Saturday, for the remainder of his stay. Such a vigorous schedule would be more than demanding on a person in good health, so considering Father Hardon’s ill health, it was a miracle … as if he was being “powered by grace” (a saying used by his Detroit office workers).

The amount of teaching Father Hardon transmitted over this six-week period was extraordinary. The privilege of being with Father, and watching the Sisters going about their work were spiritually uplifting. Through the subsequent years, I have come to realize how much the spirituality of Mother Teresa and her Sisters has influenced my life, and how much it can benefit the Marian Catechists.

Devotion to the Holy Eucharist

The Sisters always make their Holy Hour, regardless of their busy schedule in serving the poorest of the poor. As Mother Teresa described it, the Holy Hour is the time for their daily family prayer. They gather together and vocally pray the Rosary during the first half-hour. The second half-hour is in silence. Mother knew adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to be the source of grace to sustain the miraculous growth of vocations in her order.

Mother Teresa’s deep faith in the Real Presence was the foundation of her mission to the poorest of the poor. Her love for the poor came from the same love she had for Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Without that faith in the Real Presence, there would not have been a Mother Teresa.

The Poorest of the Poor

Mother Teresa loved poor people. I would say the poorer they were, the more she loved them. Her Constitutions clearly state: “The Missionaries of Charity are to give their free and whole lot of service to the poorest of the poor.” Mother Teresa loved the poor because she took Christ’s teaching seriously. Jesus foretold His coming on the last day to judge the human race in the Gospel of St. Matthew: Mt 25:31-40

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.

Then the King will say to those at His right hand, "Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me."

Then the righteous will answer Him, "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit thee?"

And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me."

Mother Teresa, therefore, saw Jesus Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and imprisoned because Christ made the correlation Himself. She has many well-known quotes to this correlation:

  • When we touch a sick person or a needy person, we are touching the suffering body of Jesus Christ.
  • The poor, in whatever part of the world they are to be found, are the suffering Christ. In them, lives and dies, the Son of God. Through them, God shows us His face.
  • We must not serve the poor as if they were Jesus. We must serve them because they are Jesus.

Mother Teresa the Catechist

In the Marian Catechist Manual, His Excellency Archbishop Raymond Burke has recounted the close relationship between the Missionaries of Charity, Father Hardon, and the Marian Catechist:

“Some twenty years ago, our Holy Father Pope John Paul II asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta to train her Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, to be catechists. At the same time, the Holy See asked Father John A. Hardon S.J., to organize the catechetical training program for the Missionaries of Charity. The fruit of the catechetical work of the Missionaries of Charity has been extraordinary. Mother Teresa’s Sisters are now in over one hundred countries, teaching the Faith and its practice, faithful to their charism of service to Christ in “the poorest of the poor.” One of the special fruits of Father Hardon’s work with the Missionaries of Charity has been the foundation of the Marian Catechists to work with the Missionaries of Charity and, eventually, to carry out the apostolate of evangelization and catechesis throughout the world. He has founded and developed the association of Marian Catechists in faithful service to the See of Peter, in accord with the original request of his help in the spiritual and doctrinal formation of catechists.” (pp. xi-xii)

His Holiness Pope John Paul II asked Mother Teresa to change the Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity. He wanted the Missionaries of Charity to become missionaries of not only poor bodies, but also of poor souls.

Much has been written about Mother Teresa and the words she has spoken. The following are a few quotations that I feel are particularly relevant in the life of a Marian Catechist:

I will give saints to Mother Church.

When Mother said “I will give saints to Mother Church,” I am sure she meant that her Sisters are to reach Heaven through the faithful adherence to their basic charism of serving the poorest of the poor. However, Mother also meant the giving of saints to Mother Church to be a duty of every baptized Christian. Father Hardon has a similar quotation: “No one gets to go to Heaven alone; you must bring someone along.”

How do we give saints to Mother Church? We have a duty to help others reach their heavenly destiny. We are to see those who need our help as the poorest of the poor in the soul. Through them you must see the face of Christ. They are those whom God, in His Providence, places into our lives. “Nothing happens by accident or by coincidence” Father Hardon used to say. “Everything is part of God’s divine plan to guide us, and others, to our heavenly destiny.”

Father Hardon was known to spend much of his time on the phone helping others. The phone in his office rang unceasingly, and to the point that he was not able to write as much as he would have liked. We all know how important his writing was to him. Despite all the efforts by his Detroit office staff to limit his telephone conference hours, I can say that we were not very successful. Invariably, he would order us to activate the ringer outside his phone conference hours, and he would personally pick up that phone when it rang.

For many years I pondered why Father Hardon permitted so much of his work to be left unfinished by interruptions which I considered frivolous. He always gave his attention to the souls that God had put in front of him. He placed these souls ahead of his work. Recently, a good friend and fellow Marian Catechist told me “I understand why. It was because Father was so detached from his work – a true sign of holiness!” He took care of the souls God put in his life, and let God take care of his work.

Faith in action is love. Love in action is service.

Mother Teresa taught her sisters the following: “Rejoice, that once more Christ is walking through the world in you, and through you, going about doing good,” and “Faith in action is love. Love in action is service.”

What Mother meant by “Christ is walking through the world in you and through you” was that we are to be channels of grace.

What is doing good? Only God is good. The only way to do good is by doing God’s will. The Marian Catechist motto is: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Father Hardon further said, “You do that and you can expect miracles.”

Father Hardon, in writing “The Catechist as a Channel of Grace,” explained that the purpose of catechesis is to change people’s lives. “Instruction for the mind is given as a means for inspiring the will. Inspiring the will, is to move the will from vain love of self to selfless love of God, and selfless love of others out of love for God.” He further said, “Religious instruction, without teaching love, is meaningless; catechesis, without teaching charity, is useless; Christianity, without charity, is paganism.”

The only way for a catechist to teach charity, is to practice charity. This is what Father Hardon called the “iron law of spiritual reproductivity.” Only like reproduces like. We are to be the conduit of divine grace to produce loving Christians, but only to the degree that we are personally living loving Christian lives. To give saints to Mother Church, is to put our faith in action. This is Christian love. To put Christian love in action is to give service to those souls that God places in our lives.

Father Hardon Visits Mother Teresa's House of the Dying in Calcutta
Father Hardon Visits Mother Teresa’s House of the Dying in Calcutta

Originally published in The Tilma, Winter 2004