This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 14: Daniel J. Harrington
By Fr. James Martin, SJ
I’m not sure that Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, wrote much about Ignatian spirituality, but his life embodied it. Father Harrington, one of the world’s premiere New Testament scholars, taught generations of Jesuits and lay students first at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., and then at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry.
Dan was legendary for his appetite for work (writing a “little book,” as he would say every summer); his precise schedule (classes would begin and end as the second hand swept “12”) and for his command of his subject (he would “sight-read” the Greek New Testament during class, seamlessly translating from the original Greek to his Boston-accented English.) But for me the most “Ignatian” of his traits was something that we don’t talk about too much in Ignatian circles: his kindness. Dan was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
When I ended up developing carpal tunnel during my theology studies, which completely prevented me from typing, I was deeply embarrassed to have to ask my professors if I could take tests orally. The first professor I told was Dan, who was teaching his Introduction to the New Testament course. He listened to my somewhat rambling explanation and said that of course we could do the exams orally. “But I’ll miss reading your papers,” he said. It was such a kind thing to say. Dan had forgotten more about the Gospels than I would ever know and wasn’t going to learn anything new from my papers. But that small gesture — generous, thoughtful, pastoral — made me realize that everything was going to be okay.
Dan is the only Jesuit I’ve ever met who I think would qualify as an “official” saint. He’d be the first to deny it. But his brother Jesuits, friends and students would be the first to affirm it.
Reflection: Where are you called to show a little kindness today? How can you make kindness a disposition you carry with you throughout Advent?
Fr. James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, editor at large at America magazine, and bestselling author of “Learning to Pray,”“Jesus: A Pilgrimage,”“The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” and “Building a Bridge.” Fr. Martin has written for many publications, including the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and he is a regular commentator in the national and international media. In 2017, Pope Francis appointed him to be a Consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.