March 17, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Fr. Leo Dehon suggested to Bishop Dours [of Soissons] that he should create a diocesan office for social projects like those that they had in other dioceses. This would be able to give information as well as to animate and co-ordinate projects within the diocese. The bishop agreed to the idea and appointed Fr. Dehon as secretary of the Office which, in practice, meant he was the main organizer.
As usual, Dehon started by analyzing the situation and launching a widespread inquiry to find out the state of the diocese. In December, he sent each parish priest a detailed questionnaire, having first sent an explanatory letter written by the bishop.
Because of the inquiry—a third of the parish priests had replied—he obtained a profile of the diocese which rather frightened him. He wrote, “It was heartrending to see all the replies. There were hardly any societies in existence and everywhere there was evidence, not so much amongst the women, but particularly among the men, of indifference or even opposition to religion.”
He concluded that what he found in St. Quentin was only a sad reflection of the situation in “this poor diocese” as he described it. Moreover, he was inclined to think that this inquiry gave some idea of the state of the Church throughout the whole of France. All pastoral concern was centered on the sacraments. Because of this, the Church was cut off from the people, particularly from the men. It was as if religion was only good for women and children. This reflected Dehon’s own family experience which had been very painful for him.
Because of the inquiry, Dehon made a greater effort to encourage understanding and to develop all kinds of initiatives, especially starting organizations aimed at young people and men. He sent out informative leaflets to raise the awareness of the whole of the diocese and thought of organizing a general assembly for those actively working in the diocese.
The bishop agreed to the idea and the assembly was arranged for March 10 and 11, 1875, at Notre Dame de Liesse. More than 250 people accepted the invitation to take part. Dehon, who had been responsible for preparing the meeting, presented a detailed report of the responses to the inquiry. This assembly was of great significance in the life of the diocese because it led to many initiatives.
Excerpt from, A Short Life of Leo Dehon, Chapter 2: “Curate and Founder,” Yves Ledure, SCJ
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
Of the three Lenten disciplines, I’ve always found “almsgiving” the easiest, at least in terms of giving a little something from my excess abundance to those who have less. But I’ve learned that there are different types of almsgiving, just as there are different types of prayer and fasting.
Of course, there’s writing a check, or these days donating online. It’s quick and easy, and it makes me feel good. Same with donating food, clothing, old appliances, and the like. Someone somewhere is getting a small blessing partly through me. But it’s the times I’ve gone beyond to other forms of almsgiving that I’ve been most blessed myself.
There is the giving of my time as alms. Helping out at a food pantry or meal program gets me out of my normal comfort zone and directly in contact with the poor, weak, and marginalized. Giving seems more meaningful when you can make eye contact with those you’re trying to help. Sometimes they’re grateful, sometimes they’re surly, sometimes they just don’t feel like connecting at that moment, but just being in their presence is a way of showing them someone cares.
An even more enjoyable form of almsgiving for me has involved getting to know an individual or family personally. I’ve had this experience through tutoring Burmese refugees at St. Michael Catholic Church in Milwaukee. My tutee, Poe Ru, already had learned English by the time I started working with him, and was mainly working on pronunciation and expanding his vocabulary. To be called “teacher” by this man who lost both arms and an eye to a landmine when he was 14, lived in a refugee camp for 20 years, and came to Milwaukee with absolutely nothing yet is now a leader in his community, is one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.
The other thing that often happens when I take the time to be with others in need is that my sense of empathy and compassion has a chance to kick in. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the Greek root of the word almsgiving means "pity," or "mercy." It seems to me that this would be yet another, and perhaps the most Dehonian, type of almsgiving: opening one’s heart to another in need. I spent some time in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and anyone who’s ever made a Vincentian home visit knows the experience of being moved to pity by someone’s life situation and getting involved with their struggles over a period of time, because once you knew them you simply couldn’t do otherwise.
In the same way, when I got to know Poe Ru and his wife Moo Paw, I was awed by their strength, courage, and persistence in the face of so many challenges, that I ended up being less of a tutor and more of a family friend. That includes teaching Moo Paw to drive, giving rides to the doctor, and getting invited to their little daughter Laura’s birthday parties and community worship services.
Giving my heart to others has been a blessing to me more than any other kind of almsgiving. Whatever it has or hasn’t contributed to their lives is far less consequential than the impact it’s made on mine.
US Province Director of Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation
Member of the North American SCJ Migration Committee
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
When all pastoral concern is centered on the sacraments, Fr. Dehon understood, then the Church cuts itself off from the everyday lives of people. How do you evaluate the contemporary Church’s pastoral concern?
What is your experience of giving alms to another in need—giving from your excess, giving of your time, or giving your heart? What is the affirmation and what is the challenge regarding your present practice of the spiritual discipline of almsgiving?
In what one, specific way can you collaborate with Jesus in his service of love and compassion?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer someone in need whom you can assist. Allow your prayer to guide you to the most appropriate practice of almsgiving. You may find helpful the following Act of Reparation, adapted from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
in your days on earth
you had compassion for the lowly:
curing those in need of healing,
spreading a table in the wilderness,
and proclaiming God’s reign on earth.
With great love, you gave your life
that we might taste and see God’s goodness.
In response, Lord,
we want to follow you into the world.
Make our ministry
a service of love and compassion.
May the joy and hope,
the grief and anguish of humanity today
become ours as well.
In this way,
may we share God’s goodness with them.
May all of us press on together
toward your Father’s kingdom.
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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