February 24, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
With ashes today, the priest traces on my forehead the sign of penitence and the sign of death. What are dust and ashes? They are signs of destruction; the stamp that time, fire, and death print on earthly things. What remains of the most famous monuments of antiquity, the most illustrious capitals of ancient Rome, Athens, Thebes, and Babylon? Dust and ashes. Where are these lavish buildings, these masterpieces of art known as the wonders of the world? Dust and ashes. Where are the remains of heroes and sages of the past? Dust and ashes.
After the worldly feasts of the past days and before the great forty days, the Church wants us to recall the vanity of human things; but above all she wants us to meditate on our origin, on our creation, the first man's sin, and its consequences. “Remember that you came out of the dust and you will return there” [cf. Genesis 3:19]. It is the divine sentence after the fall. Humanity had been pulled from the clay, but it should not return there. Humanity must be confirmed in grace and glorified in its body as in its soul. Humanity sinned and with sin, death entered the world [cf. Romans 5:12]. Today the Church offers us this basic meditation.
What am I? Dust and ashes. The dust is blown away by the wind. So too is my poor nature. I am susceptible to every wind of temptation. I am as weak in my soul and as I am fragile in my body. My will is as movable as the dust. In what, then, can I be proud? What a lesson in humility! The sage asks, “How can clay and ashes be proud?” [cf. Sirach 10:9].
Abraham said, “Dare I speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes?” [Genesis 18:27]. However, he spoke to God with humility and trust. That must be the fruit of this ceremony. Every day I have to remember my nothingness and my fragility. The outward sign will fade on my forehead; the thought that it expresses must remain engraved in my memory.
I am but nothingness; however I will go to God and I will go with humility. I will go with the awareness of my weakness, but confident anyway, because God is good, because the Son of God took on a heart to love me, and he broke this heart to let flow on my soul the fragrance of his mercy.
The Year with the Sacred Heart, “February 20: Ash Wednesday”
Heart: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
Just days before Jesus was executed on the cross in Jerusalem, he was in Bethany, enjoying a meal with friends. A woman came up to him at the table, broke open an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment, and poured its contents on Jesus’ head. As the fragrance filled the room, some indignant dinner guests murmured to each other, “Why was this ointment wasted?” [cf. Mark 14:3-9]. Perhaps the woman’s generous gesture unveiled their poverty of soul.
The mythology surrounding the habits of the pelican presents for reflection and imitation, a generous instinct of the parent bird. In times of famine, the ancient legend relates, the parent bird will pierce its breast in order to nourish its chicks with its blood.
In the image at left, the abundant flow of blood seems to suggest the severity of the famine and the precarious situation in which the parent bird places itself in order to benefit its chicks. Subtly, the image asks if the viewer is prepared to sacrifice self for the life-giving benefit of others.
As the ashes on his forehead encourage Fr. Dehon’s meditation on his nothingness and fragility, he remains humbly confident. Using imagery that contans echoes of the generous gesture of the woman who anointed Jesus’ head, and the generous instict of the pelican for the survival of its chicks, Dehon places his trust firmly in God’s goodness. “The Son of God took on a heart to love me, and he broke this heart to let flow on my soul the fragrance of his mercy.”
Only a miserly soul could object to such lavishness in the hopes that it would not be expected to respond in a similar manner.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Take some time to pray with Mark 14:3-9. Place yourself in the scene as Jesus. How do you feel as the woman anoints you so extravagantly? Place yourself in the scene as the anointing woman. What has motivated your generous gesture? Place yourself in the scene as the murmuring guests. Why does the expenditure of costly anointment discomfort you? What is the affirmation and challenge of this scripture passage for you?
For the life-giving benefit of others, to whom or what are you prepared to sacrifice yourself?
How do you experience the fragrance of Jesus’ mercy flowing over your soul?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
March 1, 2017, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the people and world situations most in need of God’s mercy. Pray that you may be an agent of God’s mercy. You may find helpful the following Act of Oblation for Holy Week, taken from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
in the days before his Passover,
a woman anointed your Son’s head
in preparation for his burial.
As we remember her deed of love,
we offer you our service for the gospel.
May we do your will as Jesus did
when he gave his life on the cross.
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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