Based in the Dehonian charism...
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final edition of Dehonian Spirituality for 2014; the next edition will be published on Jan. 9, 2015. Have a blessed Christmas and New Year's celebration!
December 19, 2014
Fr. Leo Dehon...
“What vibrant memories, what deep impressions those two wonderful days of the 19th and 20th of December, 1868, have left with me,” Leo Dehon recalled as he reflected on his ordination to the priesthood. “I had made my retreat at Santa Chiara with Fr. Freyd. The morning of the 19th I was at St. John Lateran for the ordination.
“The sanctuary of St. John Lateran is indeed exceptionally suited for ordinations. There, upon those flagstones, since Constantine, thousands of bishops and hundreds of thousands of priests have received the holy oil and mostly at the hands of the successors of St. Peter himself. There indeed is the main source of the priesthood and the apostolate.
“We were two hundred candidates for Holy Orders, among whom were religious and secular clerics, of all nations and all dress: sons of St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Dominic, and of twenty other religious families; Italian, French, English, German, Spanish clerics, and missionaries destined for the Orient, Africa, India, and Oceania.
“My good parents were behind me, shedding tears unceasingly. My father could not eat that day. The impressions produced by ordination could not possibly be put into words. I arose as a priest, possessed by Jesus, entirely taken up with him, of his love for his Father, of his zeal for souls, of his spirit of prayer and sacrifice.
“After the ordination, I went to remove my vestments and turning around, I found my mother on her knees before me to receive my first blessing. That was too much! I broke out in sobs and returned to the seminary escorted by my parents. I was worn out by emotions. My father was completely won over. He promised to receive communion the next morning at my First Mass.
“The day of the 20th was even more touching for me than that of the 19th. My First Mass was the Mass sung at the seminary. Fr. Freyd wanted to assist me—he always evinced a fatherly kindness towards me. Emotion was general and when my father and mother approached to receive Holy Communion, no one could hold back the tears. As for myself I was overwhelmed with love for our Lord and full of contempt for my puny person. It was the best day of my life. For a whole year, I was unable to celebrate Mass even once without tears.”
Fr. Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Notes on the History of My Life
“The great work of Jesus was the Church. He founded it upon the faith of Peter and upon the authority of the apostles.” As Fr. Dehon concludes his series of meditations on the Priestly Heart of Jesus, he wants priests to appreciate how they collaborate in this great work, and through them how “it develops, it grows, it is immortal.”
“The priest will have his works,” Dehon notes and lists what most people consider priestly tasks. “He will, perhaps, build a church, an oratory, or erect an altar. He will found or introduce a Confraternity, an Association, and periodical exercises of piety.” To this list he adds what many might find surprising. “He will organize new works: Patronages, Study-clubs; groups of young men and boys; Syndicates, Mutual Aid Societies, and Cooperative Unions.”
For Fr. Dehon, who offered his entire life to promote the reign of the Heart of Jesus “in souls and societies,” there was little need to distinguish between spiritual and material needs. “These establishments will be permanent,” he writes, “and the priest will live on in his works of charity and zeal; he will survive. He will feel intense joy on the day he founds such a work.
No doubt reflecting on his own experience of establishing and running The Patronage of St. Joseph for boys and young workers, facilitating a study-club for future employers, and advocating for Cooperative Unions for factory workers, he cautions, “The period of sowing the seed may be a time of difficulty and trial, but at the end of his life the priest will have the consolation of leaving a living work fruitful in grace.
“After his death he will still speak in his works, in the good that they do. If he has founded a periodical Mission or Retreat, established a Third Order, if he has published helpful, stimulating books, favored and encouraged the Catholic Press—these works will prolong his apostolate. If he has published or circulated good books, he will be preaching even after death.”
Encouraging priests to think outside “the sacristy” and beyond sacramental ministry, Fr. Dehon exhorts, “O Priests, have the holy ambition to support the useful works founded by your predecessors, and to add new enterprises to them when necessary or helpful. You will thereby survive yourselves, you will become immortal even on earth, and your works will speak for you before God.”
In the spirit of oblation or self-offering, he concludes, “Establish your works with the zeal, the charity, the tender interest that animated the Priestly Heart of Jesus when he founded his Church.”
Fr. Leo John Dehon, SCJ, The Priestly Heart of Jesus, 32nd Meditation
Lived and Shared...
Self-oblation is at the core of SCJ spirituality. It has been since the foundation of the Community, though, I think, not always perceived that way. It was Fr. Dehon’s focus from the very beginning when he named the Congregation “Oblates” of the Sacred Heart. When Rome suppressed the Foundation due to an unfortunate misunderstanding of the term “revelation,” and later gave its approval after some needed clarification, Fr. Dehon renamed it “Priests” of the Sacred Heart, retaining the same basic meaning since the priest identifies himself with Christ at the altar of oblation. The Congregation was then firmly established and it flourished everywhere.
Ever since Fr. Giuseppe Manzoni, SCJ, elaborated extensively on this change of wording in one of our past retreats, did the idea of self-oblation as “celebrant” in the Liturgy and in “ministerial service” become a real and lasting focus in my life. I saw my priesthood and daily interaction with people in the missions and in parish ministry in a much clearer and more meaningful light. It has made considerable difference in my personal spiritual life and in my relationships, not perfectly yet, but as age makes a difference, so does this sense of self-oblation in my life.
It is precisely this focus—this charism at the core of our spirituality—that can make our SCJ vocation so meaningful and appealing to the new wave of young men seeking entrance to the seminary. Noticing a remarkable attraction in seminarians and junior priests of the diocesan priesthood to the “inner life,” seeking a personal relationship with Christ, it seems to me that this charism needs to be put once again at the forefront of our vocation appeal. A life of self-oblation may be just the kind of antidote young men are looking for to fill the void left by an overdose of the secular in today’s world.
Fr. Edward Griesemer, SCJ (pictured above)
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all those who are called to minister as priests. The following prayer was composed by Fr. Dehon and recorded in his Daily Notes approximately one year after his ordination to the priesthood.
the desire I have for my own holiness
and that of my loved ones,
even the desire that the saints have
for the holiness of the world:
all these are nothing in comparison
to the ardent longing of your heart
to make us holy.
through your almighty power
give my heart the right dispositions
so that it may be able
to welcome the grace your bestow on it.