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Dehonian Spirituality includes prayers and reflections based in spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon; it is published weekly by the US Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
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June 19, 2015

 


 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
After writing the Constitutions for the Oblates [later Priests] of the Heart of Jesus, the religious community that he was establishing, Fr. Leo Dehon spent almost a year preparing himself to profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Taking the religious name of “John of the Heart of Jesus,” he began his novitiate on July 31, 1877.  The following June, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he made his public commitment before the representative of the local bishop.
 
His choice of a religious name was not entirely personal.  In the Spiritual Directory of the Priests of the Sacred Heart Dehon writes, “St. John, being the apostle of love, the apostle of the Sacred Heart, is necessarily the patron and model of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  The purity of his heart permitted a most intimate union with our Lord.  Let us study his life and teachings in order to know our Lord, in order to become true disciples and apostles of the Sacred Heart.”
 
Elsewhere in the Spiritual Directory Dehon emphasizes, “The proper character of the interior life of the Priests of the Sacred Heart is union with this Divine Heart.  It is with our Lord’s Heart and in his Heart that they should love, act, suffer, and sacrifice themselves.  They should strive to live the life of this Divine Heart.  It is the guide, the center, the hearth, and the repose of their life.”
 
While a seminarian, Leo Dehon wrote, “Holiness consists in carrying out the simple actions of our state in life in union with God.”  Nearly twenty years later, his goal remained the same.  “Grace urges me to live in union with Jesus, who lives within me.  That is the method of the interior life which helps me most.  It is an experience, repeated a thousand times; union with Jesus alone can give me joy and peace.”
 
On the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination, and facing opposition to his work and leadership style, John of the Sacred Heart made a 30-day retreat in order to renew and strengthen his relationship with Jesus.  In his retreat notes, he asks himself, “To know Jesus intimately and to love him, is this not the entire basis of the devotion to the Sacred Heart?”  He prays, “Lord, give me the grace to see and read the interior of your pierced Heart.  Intimate knowledge of your Heart will produce the response of love and the spirit of sacrifice in mine.  Lord, set my heart ablaze with the fire of your love that I may no longer think of anything but you, that I may live in you and for you, and that I take my delight in your good pleasure and your glory!”
 
Still journaling in the year of his death, and true to his religious name, he confesses, “I live with St. John in close union with our Lord,” and “With St. John, I lean my head upon the Heart of Jesus as often as I can, day and night.  I want to be to Jesus a small part of what John was to Jesus.”
 
To maintain union with Jesus was the lifetime spiritual goal of Leo John Dehon.  Devotion to the Heart of Jesus encouraged him to be one with the sentiments of Jesus so that he would know how to live and love as Jesus does.  John of the Heart of Jesus still serves as a practical model for the Priests of the Sacred Heart and for all who wish to live the Dehonian spirituality.  All who identify themselves as “of the Heart of Jesus” will seek that union expressed in the final invocation of the Litany of the Sacred Heart.  “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like your Heart.”


 

 
 
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
 
“Returning love for love” is descriptive of devotion to the Heart of Jesus as Margaret Mary Alacoque popularized it and as Leo John Dehon aspired to live it.  Appropriately responding to Jesus’ immense love, particularly revealed in his Incarnation, his passion and death, and continuing presence in the Eucharist was only possible for Dehon if he could unite himself as intimately as possible to Jesus’ sentiments and actions.  The goal of his interior life, and that of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, is a union of hearts.
 
A union of hearts refers to not only an individual relationship between Jesus and an individual follower, but also between Jesus’ followers themselves and their communal relationship with Jesus.  This is the prayer spoken by Jesus on the night before he died and which the Priests of the Sacred Heart call to consciousness by their motto, “Sint unum” [Latin for, “May they be one”].

Praying for his disciples, Jesus said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” [John 17:20-21].
 
This mandala, composed of overlapping hearts and a braid of interwoven strands, is a visual prayer for union.  The individual hearts, although not easily distinguishable, create an overall, unified pattern with an intensification of loving energy at the center where their points meet.  This point of focused energy could be seen as an image of the Heart of Jesus, the locus of returning love for love.
 
With the braid, the individual strands remain distinguishable even as their interconnection creates a collaborative bond.  This could be seen as a symbol of the Trinity and the model for the Christian community.  The union of hearts and the collaborative bond of the braid each form a circle within a circle, symbol of movement and perfection.
 
Prayerfully gazing upon this mandala reveals the vision of unity to which God calls us and offers us the challenge to live into this identity.
 
Unity Mandala, pen and ink drawing, David Schimmel
 

 
 



 
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
 
Being an Indian, I used to pledge every day during my school days that “I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.”  But looking back I realize that it was only after I joined the SCJs that I started to experience and slowly understand this pledge.  Without the SCJs I would not have had the most beautiful experience of living together with people from different Indian states, each having different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, which has made me who I am today.
 
I was someone who had not even heard about the SCJs before joining the minor seminary.  But from the very beginning, looking at my formators and other members of the Congregation, I always felt that these people had something special in them that I did not see in other priests and religious.  Slowly through the process of formation I was molded to be one like them so that I started hearing from other people that “you are different.”  I began to ask myself, “What is it that makes us different from others?”  I have seen since my minor seminary days that common people could approach and communicate with our priests very well even with all the cultural and language differences.  I saw them going out to visit the people and taking us along with them.  This is one of the strongest reasons behind my decision to be an SCJ.
 
The phrase “That they may be one” is that which captured my attention most because of the Indian reality where I come from.  Every single community in India has within itself the seeds and the potential to become a perfect expression of this sint unum.  However, people hailing from different states, having different cultural backgrounds, can also pose a challenge to this unity.  Yet we are constantly reminded that the “Love of God” is sufficient to build this unity and that this Love of God stands above all the other reasons to live separated, lonely, individualistic lives.  The spirit of “one India” and the fact “we are Indians” is what brings unity for us Indians, despite all our multicultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-ethnic realities.  And now for the Indian SCJs, that which unites us is that we are SCJs.
 
The truth that I am an Indian SCJ often makes me wonder where or what I would have been without the SCJs.  Now I strongly believe that the truth is that God wanted me to be an SCJ and an Indian, an Indian SCJ.  As someone put it, “if God wanted me to be something else I would have been.”
 
I pray that I may be able to say, along with our Founder, that nothing that happened in my life is a coincidence but whatever I was, I am, and I will be is purely the providence of God.
 
Roy Xavier, SCJ
 

 



 
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

Fr. Dehon characterized holiness as “carrying out the simple actions of our state in life in union with God.”  How would you characterize the holiness to which you aspire?
 
What spiritual practices help you to be in union with the Heart of Jesus?
 
In the community/communities in which you find yourself, what are the challenges in forming and maintaining a union of hearts?  What can you contribute to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer “that all may be one”?

 



 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer Jesus’ desire “that all may be one” and be open to contributing to this union of hearts.  You may find helpful this Oblation Prayer from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
 
Lord Jesus Christ,
your heart is the center of the Church,
a sign of intimate union with God
and the unity of all people.
 
Make us life-giving members of your family
according to our calling
as people dedicated to your love.
 
Increase our loyalty, charity, and availability,
so that, following your example,
we may be at the service of God
and all who are in need.
Make us grow in the unity for which you prayed
on the night before you gave your life for us.
 
Amen.

 
 
The backstory
 
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page of the U.S. Province website of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This is an email version of that update. 

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The Dehonian Spirituality updates are edited by David Schimmel, U.S. Province director of Dehonian Associates. Questions or comments for David? 
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