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Understanding the Bible Series:
Meditation on Our Lord in the Gospels - Part 2

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.



They all universally deny the Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel, and this is one reason. It is so mercifully clear on those truths of the Catholic faith, like Christ’s divinity, like Mary’s divine maternity, like the Real Presence. You might also have told your friends or tell your friends, the Protestants who do not believe in the Real Presence, by the year 1600, that’s 83 years after Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church, St. Robert Bellermine found over two hundred interpretations of the meaning of Christ’s words at the Last Supper, ‘This is My Body, This is My Blood’.

Having taught in six Protestant seminaries, having over the years, I’ve taught many courses in Protestant theology, the two principle errors for us Catholics of Protestantism are the very ones that I’ve told you are the main reason for people leaving the Catholic Church. Historically they left the Catholic Church because of the Church’s uncompromising position on the indissolubility of sacramental, consummated Christian marriage. And the second reason Luther having left the Catholic Church, that’s by the way why we have Halloween, there would be no Halloween except for Protestantism, to make a mockery of Catholic faith in all the saints. Oh how totally brainwashed many Catholics have become.

But then secondly, denying the indissolubility of Christian marriage which is historically the reason, the reason why Luther broke from the Catholic Church. Then having been a priest for 15 years he logically had to justify his leaving the priesthood so he wrote book after book denying the necessity of the priesthood. Why do we have to have priests? The single most fundamental reason is that we might have the Sacrifice of the Mass and have the Real Presence. Having rejected his own priesthood, then Luther wrote book after book denying the necessity of the priesthood. What we must give, what we call the heresiarchs, they are the leading, the chief heretics, they are smart, they don’t miss a thing, and those are the two errors that are plaguing the western world today among Catholics. You don’t close forty-two parishes in Detroit, or sixty-two in Chicago without a reason, the final reason is those two articles of our faith. And the Catholic Church will survive, as I keep saying, only where there are people still left who believe that Christian consummated marriage is indissolvable and that Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary Who is the Son of God is on earth in flesh, physically present in the Eucharist. And what’s happening to so many church edifices is a reflection of the weakening and the loss of that faith. Oh what I could not say, how specific I could be, what names I could name. And that is why, thanks for coming, that’s why I’m coming here, to keep our faith alive. What’s happening now has been going on since, for our purpose, since Christ made the promise of the Eucharist in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. So what’s new? Oh what’s new is that so many of these ‘ex-Catholics’ insist on parading, talk about a Halloween party, talk about walking around, walking around in disguise, they’re not Catholic.

John's Narrative

John is the one who gives us the long discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper, it’s the longest sustained narrative of Christ in the Gospels. And remember, absolutely speaking had John been martyred, which he well could have been because of the attempts on his life, but God spared him to wait until there had been, listen to this, enough heretics, enough heresies to then justify writing a Gospel to, well, refute those heresies, including of course, Christ’s divinity and His Real Presence. And at the Last Supper Christ discourse, as we know, was mainly about the love, the love that those who believe in Christ are to have for one another out of love for Christ.

And finally, it was John who recalls the story of Christ making Peter the head of the Church on earth. Why? Because the primacy, the papal primacy was already denied and rejected in the first century. And the rejection and denial came from whom? From bishops. It is John again, in his Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation who describes, remember, the bishops, this is Christ revealing to John about the different kind of bishops, then in that early Church and in the 1st century not all were good bishops and then John quotes Our Lord calling them some very bad names. And ‘you’d better reform, you’d better reform or else.’ That’s John.


Now some practical recommendations, I have to be exact twelve.

Though I spoke for the next ten days, and spoke only on this subject on meditating on the Gospels, I could not tell you how important that is and whatever else you do as a result of these classes, not just know but do, if you do begin, if you have not yet begun, if you do not begin to meditate on the Gospels then I have wasted your time. I mean it. In today’s world, no one, no Catholic can survive in the Church, I couldn’t make my language more clear, no Catholic can survive in the Church without daily meditation on the Gospels. I mean it. Where there is Christ Himself with His words and His actions teaching us.

Now some practical recommendations.

Know beforehand on what event in Christ’s life you will meditate. I think I told you it is a very good idea to meditate on the Gospel for that day. Now when there is an option of Gospels, say when you either have a saint’s feast or what we call a ferial day, two different gospels well then you’ve got your choice. But most of the days in the year have one Gospel specified. Now I’m not sure that I ever asked you people, do you people have access to, do you have a source for knowing what are the Gospels for each day of the year? How many have such information? Accessible. Good. Everybody should have it. And I’ve been doing this for years, in the Society of Jesus we have what we call the Jesuit Ordo. Called Jesuit Ordo, 1992, 1993 for Jesuits of the United States Assistancy. In other words, the major countries in the world are divided in the Jesuit Order into what we call Assistancies. The United States is an Assistancy. For example for tomorrow, October 25, it is not a feast day. Gives you different information but the Gospel is Luke 13:10-17 and even a short sentence, “This daughter of Abraham was it not right to untie her on the Sabbath day?” In other words, what did Christ do? He worked a miracle on the Sabbath. After having performed the miracle His enemies, well, criticized Him. Then Christ is asking them, well, are you telling me we cannot perform an act of charity on the Sabbath? And what an act of charity—a miracle.

In any case, I would recommend to all of you, now what I can do, it’s still time before the first Sunday of Advent of this year, which is about a month away, anyway if is don’t…what do they usually cost? Four, four dollars, is it four dollars, I think it’s four dollars, I could order copies and if anybody would want copies, if you wouldn’t mind doing this let me [Are you talking about for next year, ’93-94?] That’s 93-94 and, why don’t we do this, let’s not do it now and spend time during class in filling out let’s say after the break we’ll have a paper passed around, sign your names if you would want to order a Jesuit Ordo. That’s what Ordo means Order, okay, there’s much more to it.

  1. So know beforehand, because what happens, if you know beforehand you are thinking about what you are going to meditate on. St. Ignatius recommends, St. Ignatius recommends that you think of that the night before and honest, if you do that the night before, even your dreams will change. Gosh, that’s hypnotic. And if you want to have the right kinds of thoughts in the morning, be sure you have the right kind of thoughts before you retire.

  2. Divide the event into a few points, that’s Ignatius’ language, few parts. Ignatius recommends three. Thus the first fifteen meditations of St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises, then have read as follows, I don’t have the text here but 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1,2 ,3, always in honor of the Holy Trinity. So the Annunciation, 1, 2, 3, the angel appears and he speaks, that’s point one. Then Our Lady talks to the angel, that’s part two. And then the angel, what does he say? How did the angel answer Our Lady? Nothing. [The Holy Spirit will over shadow you?] The Holy Spirit will overshadow you? “Nothing is impossible with God” and then the third point of course is the most important where Mary says, “Be it done to me according to your word.” And this by the way, I cannot tell you how important this is in understanding our faith. The faith by definition is our acceptance of God’s revealed Word. However, the faith is not a feeling. The faith is not an emotion. The faith is a judgment made by the mind assenting to what? I understand God revealed. What did Mary do? At the Annunciation she made an act of faith. And the moment she pronounced the words, “Be it done to me according to your word”, at that moment God became man. In other words, and having had years of graduate studies in science, my doctoral studies in chemistry, pulled out of science and put into theology. What I found out and I want to share with you, theology is a science. And those who don’t realize it’s a science, they are the ones causing us so much trouble. All kinds of vague ideas, we call them weasel words they use, they never get down and tell you this is it. When God reveals He tells us this is it. And consequently, dividing our meditations into mathematical numbers is not at all strange, in fact, it’s perfectly consistent. It’s consistent with the nature of revelation. Truth, of course, is in the mind but what is in the mind is specific, it’s definite.

  3. Before you start meditating place yourself in God’s presence. I must by now for some of you I’ve said this fifty times in different context. The secret is to consciously be aware that I am not in God’s presence. In whose presence are most of us most of the time? [Our own] Our own presence and remember we said, the essence of being in the presence of anyone is to be thinking of the person whom I love. Having loving thoughts or thinking lovingly and the one that we’re always, of course we hide it, all kinds of ways we can mask our profound, deep mystical self-love, lost in ecstasy in the adoration of the one god that most human beings adore—themselves. I’m not being rhetorical by the way, we’ve got to go out of our way and make ourselves aware of the presence of God. Speak to Him.

  4. Make a preparatory prayer. “O God, grant that all the actions, intentions and operations of this spiritual exercise may tend solely to the praise and glory of your divine majesty.” Doesn’t matter what we say, that’s what I was taught fifty years ago and I’m still saying it. And well, you also make a gesture, we were taught always when we start a meditation make an act of the presence of God and then, not just bow, but literally touch the ground with your head either with the forehead or with the lips, bowing. I just make sure the door’s closed and that I do this everyday. So, make a preparatory prayer.

  5. Recall in memory the situation on which you will meditate. It is a good thing to have, those call them points for meditation planned beforehand, even written out. And over the years I cannot tell you, not just hundreds but several thousand such synthesis over the years, being under training, I was making.

  6. Picture in your imagination the event on which you are reflecting. One thing that may surprise some of us is the fact that these meditations are not meditations as such, our ideas, they are rather meditations on events. On events that occurred on words that are used. And this is one of the great dangers that given the two forms of prayer, vocal prayer that people will be praying using words but the mind may be a thousand miles away. Or maybe, not a thousand miles away, very close, lost in rapture in thinking about, well, myself. And with mental prayer, the danger there is that a person may make the prayer so speculative, so intellectual that it’s hardly prayer anymore. The advantage therefore in meditating on an event or on words is that you bring yourself down to, well, down to earth.

  7. Start with part one. I don’t even have part two because Ignatius says if you do, you’re doing well in your meditation on part one or point one, don’t go on, don’t be in a hurry. The last thing you do, the last thing you do when you meditate, the last thing is do speed reading. And this by the way is almost a diagnosis of the intellectual disease of a country like ours. Accumulating a lot of ideas, ideas, ideas, ideas and never getting to the root of a single idea. Some people have never thought through a single idea in their lives. I know, I’ve taught them. You read the words of the Gospel, see with your imagination the persons, hear what they say and when I, over the years, have been teaching this as a course in spiritual theology, my students, especially my Jesuits would ask me ‘my gosh, that’s so childish, I’m not used to that’. ‘Well, my friend, have you thought maybe of starting?’ In other words, there’s a childlike simplicity about meditation. Hear what they say, seek to understand what the actions and words mean. Why the angel Gabriel, why him? Remember what he had just finished, he finished an assignment, remember, with whom? [Zachary] Zachary, and so the same angel was sent to Mary. To whom did he come? And it’s remarkable how having, say, read or heard read maybe a thousand or more times the Annunciation narrative in the Gospel I never realized these are the words. Oh by the way, may I ask, what did the angel say? [Hail, full of grace] Hail. Did the angel address Mary by name? [No] Okay. ‘Hail, full of grace’ are those the words he used, ‘Hail, full of grace’? [Yes] Yes. And the Church for centuries has believed that, that’s why we have the Hail Mary. And then what does ‘full of grace’ mean? In other words, now here’s the beauty of it, you’re meditating on the Scriptures, which obviously, which are the revealed word of God, you’re in God’s presence because you made yourself so, and then you are in effect asking yourself, but in God’s presence what assurance do you have that when you are in God’s presence and you are asking for what something means, what assurance do you have that God will tell you what it means? This may come as a surprise, hope not to too many of you, but I know of nothing, no single recommendation I could make on the spiritual life, and I can make a thousand, none in my judgment is more fundamental than in the presence of God, prayerfully to ask God what something means. Because it’s the meaning, it’s the meaning which is the ground of our motivation. Our wills, as we’ve heard so often, are blind faculties, they cannot think. The mind must provide the ideas for the will. But ideas have meaning. And remember that parable of the sower, the seed falling on different kinds of ground, only the fourth, the last kind of soil was fruitful and the first soil produced nothing. Remember why, because corresponding to the seed falling on the wayside, this is the word of God, falling on the wayside, shall we say sown on the mind. What a difference between the word of God being sown on the mind and being sown in the mind, to penetrate the mind. What happened to the first seed, produced nothing, why, because the birds had a feast. They picked it up. And then what does Christ say, “They are those who having received the word of God, failed to understand it.” I could now talk for eight days, eight hours a day on the transcendent importance of understanding the meaning of what we believe. Most people don’t, I know it, they don’t. They’ll quote somebody who will have a meaning, they don’t even know what that person means by his meaning. So what does ‘full of grace’ just to use that as an example, what does it mean? And what was the message? But then, and this is crucial, what does this mean to me? In other words, every statement that we find in the Gospels has a meaning for each one of us. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be here. And God is speaking to each one of us individually, personally. We go on.

  8. Apply these thoughts to yourself. And whatever you do don’t’ rush. Most Americans are in a hurry but the worst kind of hurry is speed of the mind. It takes time for ideas to penetrate. So why did the angel come to Mary? Because she was humble, because of her deep faith, because she was chaste. And then I ask myself, how deep is my faith? How deep is my humility? How deep is my chastity?

And our faith, humility and chastity are being tested, and I mean it, as never before in the history of the world. You don’t have, as we have, in our United States, bishops coming out in defense of homosexuality. Without your faith, what word shall I use, being tried, being tempted, you don’t have as I think I told you, was it in this class, was it a full page ad by the seamless garment network, remember, ‘that we shouldn’t be so narrow minded as to concentrate on well, you know, the right-to-life and against abortion, we should’, well, ‘take a broader perspective and consider the right-to-life of a condemned major criminal, we should be concerned about war, that become convinced that all war is unjust.’ Is it? Is all war unjust? [No.] No. ‘We should be concerned about other forms of life and not just human life.’ Like the whales remember? And there are bishops behind this. I’d rather crawl under this building sixty feet deep than talk this way, but talk this way I must, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you what we are going through in our, in our world today. A deep faith, a deep humility, and a deep chastity and I mean a deep chastity. I was in California yesterday and just before I left back for Detroit what did I read, this is the San Francisco Chronicle for October 22, so that was Friday’s paper. And this is full page of relationships, a great way to meet people, these are ads, female to male relationships, male to male relationships, female to female relationships, these are lesbians, homosexuals, married people who want to have sex relations with someone else while remaining married. This is a full page of urgent and ardent requests for relationships. We’d better, we’d better know what’s going on and deepen, deepen our faith, our humility and our chastity.

How firmly do I believe that the Son of God became man for me? And that, in working on the Catechism as I am doing now, if there’s one thing that comes out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church repeatedly, section after section, the foundation of our faith is belief that the Son of Mary is the Son of the Living God, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who became man. How aware am I of the angels? I won’t ask for a raising of hands, how many of you pray everyday to the angels. All right, put up your hands, how many? Start praying to the angels and by the way, you won’t like this, but so what? Let’s those of us who pray to our guardian angels tonight let’s ask our guardian angel to keep those people awake who are not in the habit of praying to their guardian angels until they start praying to their guardian angels. Pardon me, if you can’t fall asleep tonight you’ll know why. How much do I listen to him, to my guardian angel? Am I convinced that God will work miracles in my life provided I trust in God? That’s what the angel told Mary. ‘Mary, are you willing to become the mother of the Creator?’ But she did say in effect, ‘I want to live a virginal life’, so the angel told her about Elizabeth. For God miracles are, well that’s daily routine. And He wants to work miracles, He does, the only condition is that we believe.

Do not go on to parts 2 or 3 as long as you are doing, gathering fruit from part 1. Then set a definite time limit to your meditation. Now for most people it’s not so much a time limit, they keep looking at their watch, ‘I’ve got eleven more minutes to go.’

And finally before you close, pray to Our Lord asking Him for the graces that you need, light, strength, patience and charity.

Let’s read the prayer we’ve got, let’s read it together.

Lord Jesus, You are our God who became man to show us the way to true happiness in this life and to perfect happiness in the life to come. Teach us how to meditate everyday on Your earthly life in Palestine. Make us realize that this meditation is absolutely necessary to please You and bring to You all the souls that You want to save through us before You call us into eternity. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 2005 Institute on Religious Life

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon
gave to the Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
PO. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

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