April 17, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
During the Easter season, but most visibly during the Easter Vigil, the Church prays its belief as the People of God through the celebration of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. As members of Christ’s Body, Christians are bound together in a union of love and service.
Characteristically, Fr. Leo John Dehon perceives that, “The sacraments are the gift of the Heart of Jesus. In allowing his Heart to be pierced and to pour forth blood and water he wished to show us that his Heart is the source of the sacraments symbolized by this blood and water.”
“Recall the grace of Baptism,” he writes in a book of meditations. “You have become God’s dearly beloved children. Baptism is a true adoption. You also became children of the Church; you have entered into the participation of all its wealth, its joy, its feasts, its treasures. You have been admitted into the Communion of Saints. Our Lord has given you a new heart and a new spirit. You have passed from darkness to light [cf. Ephesians 5:8].”
In another meditation book, Dehon reflects, “From now on, this [baptized] soul is a member of the family of God, whom it calls Father. Jesus Christ becomes its brother.” Alluding to St. Paul’s words that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” [Romans 8:26], Dehon suggests that the Spirit teaches us to address “the hunger and thirst that consume us” by praying, “Give us our daily and more-than-substantial bread: that is, grace, love, and the Heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.”
“The sacrament of confirmation is the chrism of salvation. With the fragrance of love, this holy anointing is conferred with the sign of the cross. It is the Sacred Heart of Jesus who comes to imprint himself on the soul and establish there, with a totally new strength and gentleness, the Spirit of Love with its abundance of graces and gifts. The dedication of the living temple is accomplished.”
Fr. Dehon sounds like a good catechist, teaching the basics of sacramental theology. When his words inform his deeds, however, he models a practical spirituality. As a student, his membership in the St. Vincent de Paul Society brought him into contact with poverty and its deplorable consequences. Gradually he learned that charity was not a sufficient response. So, as an associate pastor in the factory town of St. Quentin, Dehon took action against, “Godless capitalists [who] are exploiting the worker and are destroying his body, his soul, and his eternity, often without giving him an adequate share of the profits earned by his sweat.”
In addition to establishing a Youth Club, a high school, and a local newspaper, Fr. Dehon sought to raise the standards for the formation of priests, “who are well-educated, zealous, and virtuous.” Among other things, this meant, “The clergy have to learn about economic issues and the problems of social science. Because they have neglected this for so long, they have allowed society to go to the dogs. Our seminaries have to offer courses in social and political economics.”
If Baptism marks individuals as members of God’s family, if Confirmation bestows upon them the Spirit’s strength and gentleness, and if the Eucharist supplies them with the nourishment of the love of the Heart of Jesus, then Fr. Dehon could not ignore policies or prejudices that kept people in darkness. When he witnessed the living temples of the Holy Spirit being crushed by oppression or indifference, Fr. Dehon worked to create in society a new heart and a new spirit.
The sacraments of initiation confer an identity and demand a response. “The fire of divine love which our Lord has come to bring and which he wishes to enkindle,” Dehon cautions, “will not be lighted in your heart, or at least it will not be maintained and nourished unless you yourself wish that it be enkindled, encourage it, and foster its ardor by your cooperation. You have received the germ and first spark of it in Baptism. Our Lord has commanded you to cherish and nourish it constantly.”
Fr. Dehon practiced what he believed and challenges us to do the same. May the Easter season be an opportunity to renew our commitment as followers of Christ, so that cherishing and nourishing constantly the fire of love and service, we will help to bring about the Reign of God.
Cf. Leo John Dehon, SCJ, The Life of Love Towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus, 3rd and 9th Meditations; The Love of the Sacred Heart III, 1st Mystery, 5th Meditation
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
In a resurrection story preserved in John’s Gospel [20:19-29], Jesus stands in the midst of his disciples. In their fear, Jesus offers them peace. Although they have locked themselves safely inside, Jesus sends them forth. When Thomas doubts because he has not seen, Jesus blesses those who believe without the benefit of seeing. The disciples must have been extremely confused. Jesus had scrambled their sense of reality many times before, but they could not have been prepared for this.
And then there is Jesus’ scarred, resurrected body. He purposely shows his wounds to his disciples. Later, he invites Thomas, literally, to put his finger in the nail marks and his hand into the pierced side. While this display and the playful challenge to Thomas might serve to identify the risen Jesus to his bewildered disciples, it fulfills once again the scripture passage, which the Gospel of John notes at the time of Jesus’ death, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” [John 19:37].
In this image of the Sacred Heart, Jesus displays his wounds as if they are a badge of honor. The simple, strong lines, bright background, and vibrant colors of the stained glass suggest the delicious joy proceeding from a loving faithfulness, no matter how battered, that cannot be eliminated.
As we gaze upon this Pierced One, we recognize that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” [John 15:14], and remember that Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly [cf. John 10:10]. In our fear of being wounded, the Pierced One offers us peace; in our preference to avoid conflict, he sends us forth to fight for justice; and in our doubts, he strengthens our belief. This isn’t the stuff of logic. Rather, it is the wisdom of God echoed in this commission, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” [John 20:21].
Stained Glass Image by Bob Apple
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What do you consider the grace(s) of your baptism?
In what way(s) do the sacraments of initiation influence your life?
When Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” what is he expecting of you?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer those who experience doubt, fear, or confusion, and choose to remain faithful to their Christian calling nonetheless. You may find helpful this Easter Prayer of Reparation from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
in your dying and rising,
we see the power of your love.
Today you show us
that we need not be afraid,
for in you death itself has been overcome.
Jesus, you have not abandoned us,
for from your open heart
flow blood and water:
redeeming the world,
nurturing the Church,
and making all people one with you.
we ask you to consecrate our hearts.
Send us forth as you were sent
to bring life to the world.
Make us servants of your grace:
uniting all people in love,
building up the Church,
working for a world freed from oppression and fear.
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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