March 3, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
As Fr. Dehon saw it, the poor of the 19th century, who were living out the agony of Christ, were mostly the masses of workers who were exploited and humiliated by rampant industrialization. He would become the defender of these men and women whose dignity was not being respected.
On their behalf he wanted to establish what he called the “social reign of the Sacred Heart” in French society, which would combine social justice and Christian charity. With this in mind he founded a journal in 1889 bearing the highly evocative title, The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Souls and in Societies. The link between spirituality and the struggle for humanity, between the mystical and the political, could not be better emphasized.
The originality of Christianity is built on this linkage and it remained a major concern for Dehon, who wanted to share it with his followers. He imagined Jesus saying, “The reign of my Heart in society is the reign of justice, charity, mercy, and pity for the poor, the humble, and those who suffer. I am asking you to dedicate yourselves to all these works, to encourage them, to cooperate with them. Support all the institutions that can contribute to the reign of social justice and that defend the weak from oppression by the powerful” [The Retreat with the Sacred Heart, 40th Meditation].
It is fitting then to place the mystery of the Passion and the Cross at the center of the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus, a mystery which assumes and shares the fragile, wounded condition of humanity, and especially today, the condition of a humanity traumatized by the demands of modern life. Dehon had foreseen this in his time; that is why we must see a strict correlation between his spirituality centered on the Heart of Christ and his social commitment. If Christ assumed the human condition that was marred by evil and sin, it was in order to restore and repair it.
Excerpt from The Spirit and Life of Leo Dehon, Day Eleven: “The Book of Agapé,” Yves Ledure, SCJ
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
I cannot help but recall the way Fr. Mike Crosby, OFM Cap, speaks about our vow of poverty. He defines poverty as “the inability to have access to the resources one needs for their livelihood.” If you accept that definition and I most certainly do, then it follows that we religious are not poor. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, the marvelous work of the folks in our development offices and the good stewardship of those who manage our funds, we are not poor.
We have the resources we need for our livelihood. Add to that the fact of the tremendous educational experiences that are part of our formation, and it is obvious that we have access to the resources we need for our livelihood. What our vow of poverty calls us to is to live gratefully, to use well the gifts we have received, and to share with others the blessings we have received.
The fact that I have been exposed to materials circulated by members of our community who have long been involved in the ministry to social justice and the fact that now I am a member of our Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation Commission makes me add another dimension to how I believe we are called to live out our vow of poverty. Because we, as religious, have this access to resources, I believe part of being faithful to living out our vow of poverty calls us to work at helping others who are poor, who do not have this access to the resources they need to be able to attain that.
We have learned that the work of social justice has two feet: one that is dedicated to direct service of those in need and the other that is dedicated to addressing those systems that keep people in need. We SCJs, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors and the untiring work of our confreres on the front lines have done and continue to do great work at directly helping meet the needs of people in difficult situations.
Going back to the definition of poverty, that work that is being done is supplying “resources for livelihood” to those in need. That is one of the feet of social justice work. We also need to get at working for systemic change. That means we work at rectifying those systems that prevent those in need from having “access to the resources” they need. Our vow of poverty calls us to both of these activities.
In our SCJ prayer book, This Day of God, there is an Act of Reparation for the Tuesday of Week I. When we pray that particular Act of Reparation, we say, “Give us a heart of compassion, not only to help the poor, but to respect them. Give us a heart of courage, not only to feed the hungry and give a home to the homeless, but to work toward eliminating hunger and homelessness.”
We ask God, through the intercession of our founder Leo John Dehon, that those words we pray may be evident in the way we live, that we offer to those in need the resources that they require, but that we also engage in the task of changing the systems in our world that deny the poor the access to the resources they need for their livelihood.
John Czyzynski, SCJ, Member of the Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation Committee and of the
North American Migration Committee
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What are the consequences of placing the mystery of the Passion and the Cross at the center of the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus?
How can you activate the “two feet” of social justice in your life?
Take some time to consider the words that you use in prayer to see if they are evident in the way you live.
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
Today, March 3, 2017, is World Day of Prayer. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to heed the Church’s urging, during the Lenten season, to evaluate the quality of your personal prayer and how it affects the way you live. In your kindness throughout the week, please remember in your prayer and your action the poor, who are denied access to the resources they need for their livelihood by the unjust systems of the world. You may find helpful the following Act of Reparation, taken from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
we hear so often your words,
“Whatsoever you do to the least
of my brothers and sisters,
you do to me,”
but we seldom act on them.
The poor are all around us.
The homeless and the hungry
struggle in our neighborhoods,
and so often we pass them by.
you not only spoke those words, you lived them.
You did not ignore the poor or pass them by.
You saw in them a reflection of yourself,
created in your own image and likeness.
Help us to see with your eyes.
Give us a heart of compassion,
not only to help the poor,
but to respect them.
Give us a heart of courage,
not only to feed the hungry,
and give a home to the homeless,
but to work toward
eliminating hunger and homelessness.
Challenge us to hear your words
and to live them.
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.
Anyone is welcome to receive the Dehonian Spirituality email. Click here to add a subscriber.
The Dehonian Spirituality updates are edited by David Schimmel, U.S. Province director of Dehonian Associates. Questions or comments for David? Click here.
Click here to learn more about the Priests of the Sacred Heart on the US Province website. Click here to visit us on Facebook.