May 22, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Ever since the beginning of the Congregation, Fr. Dehon provided it with an international orientation. He had two major concerns, first, for the international society [by which he meant the welfare of the world and its people] and second, for the universal Church. His travels led him to be interested in both.
In his Diary he wrote, “I have read several books about countries that I have visited. I like to discover the progress and hopes of the Church as well as the obstacles it faces.” In his Memoirs, written in 1912 for the members of his Institute, he said, “In order to be able to write and talk about social matters, one must have seen a great deal, one has to know how to compare the governments of various peoples. Broad knowledge provides authority; it allows you to correct mistakes and to perceive the action of God and the action of his enemy in the different areas of the world.”
While an associate priest in St. Quentin, he used to read magazines with an international focus. The Eagle, the newsletter of St. John’s Institute, had a section with news concerning the universal Church. When Dehon founded the Congregation, he did not think about creating merely a diocesan Institute or Society, but a true Congregation. That is why he took St. Ignatius’ Constitutions as a model for his own. In order to be a true Congregation, he needed the approval of Rome. Only in that way could the Work [of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus] be established in other countries.
On September 16, 1886, the first General Chapter took place in St. Quentin with the partial assistance of Bishop Thibaudier. Fr. Dehon was elected General Superior for six years. The subject of missions was discussed. Fr. Dehon wrote in his Circular Letter of October 17, “The bishop wanted to strengthen our faith and confidence in the Institute by predicting its early and rapid growth and its probable expansion in the missions.”
On February 25, 1888, the anticipated Decree of Praise arrived. It was welcomed with great joy after so many difficulties and problems. Fr. Dehon had been able to gather twenty-seven testimonials from cardinals, archbishops, and bishops in favor of the young Institute, which now would be able to expand without difficulty. This was the basis for the internationalization of the Congregation. On November 10, 1888, the first missionaries went to Ecuador.
Egidio Driedonkx, SCJ, excerpted from The SCJ Process of Internationalization 1878-1925
This image of the Heart of Jesus comes from an area of Cameroon known for its tradition of carving, especially masks and other items with ceremonial significance. In this instance, the Western iconography of the Heart of Jesus is adapted to the local carving tradition, with which natural resources and native talent give cultural expression to faith.
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
The Westerner sees a simplified [some might say primitive] depiction of Jesus with Caucasian features and the traditional heart with cross and flames. A distinctive feature is a rather large face with haunting eyes. Cameroonians, on the other hand, see not only an image of Jesus, but also an expression of community.
In the wood carving tradition of western Cameroon, one person harvests the wood that has tones ranging from white to dark brown. Another person roughs out the form in preparation for the carver, who refines the details of the image. Then the image is handed over to a sander, who smooths the entire surface. Finally, another person decorates the image with a variety of techniques. Details can be blackened by touching the area with a piece of hot iron, or colored with pounded red camwood mixed with palm oil and water, and burnished with a small glass bottle to create a shine. The value of working together as a community through a division of labor is embedded in the culture.
The face of this image of the Heart of Jesus seems to have the quality of a mask, which for African sensibilities does not hide, but rather reveals. Masks can represent the spirit of the ancestors or deities. The masks, and the sacred ceremonies in which they are used, yield power that the viewer is either attracted to or repelled by. For the Catholic viewer, this image of the Heart of Jesus reveals a compassionate power that is at once alluring and challenging. Indeed, to express devotion to the Heart of Jesus simultaneously demands a devotion to the world community.
“Heart of Jesus,” carved and colored wood from Foumban, Cameroon, and presently at the SCJ Mission House in Paris, France.
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
When the vision of an international SCJ community began to take shape here in Toronto about seven years ago, it would be fair to say that there were as many images of international community as there were members in the community. Once the community began to look at specific needs of the local church and the city, and examine the resources needed to respond to them, we began to see things from a more common perspective. With a common vision of ministries and the skills they called for, we had a clearer idea who to approach and what to ask for.
At present our ministries include pastoral work with a multicultural parish community, a Portuguese community, and the diocesan Indonesian community. We coordinate ministry to refugees and immigrants. We are beginning to focus on youth ministry and vocation ministry in all of these areas. That is the public face and the short history of the international community here in Toronto.
Within the community also lies the daily struggle to create a communion of faith, pastoral theology, and mission, and a community climate which both embraces diversity and aims at communion. It is so easy to slip into groupings where Brazilians, Indonesians, and Canadians all remain in their own cultural comfort zones, especially when the misunderstood gesture, or turn of phrase wounds the ego and sets off negative thoughts. Our community has survived and progressed to the present level because there is an underlying willingness to let oneself be challenged by the other’s faith tradition, theology, and community traditions.
I believe there is more than just a tolerance for the way our cultures have shaped us. There is a desire to understand, accept, and even celebrate these differences within the framework of a commitment to make the community work. In the end it is probably the human heart’s longing for communion that saves us. The “sint unum” vision [“that all may be one”] is probably firmly planted in every human heart.
Jim Casper, SCJ
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
In the community where you reside, how can you create a climate that both embraces diversity and aims at communion?
What world situation might you better understand by seeing through the eyes of another culture what you are unable to see through your own?
What most challenges you about another’s traditions of faith, theology, or community?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
On Sunday, May 24, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Pentecost as the opening event of learning the other’s language and proclaiming the Gospel to all nations. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the Priests of the Sacred Heart, particularly their efforts at creating and modeling intentional, international communities.
Spirit of Unity,
make us wise:
humble in our own perceptions
and respectful of those who see differently.
Spirit of Diversity,
fill us with the ability
to listen to others
and to speak their languages.
Spirit of Love,
delight us with your surprising ways
and with relationships
that unite us to each other.
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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