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Dehonian Spirituality includes prayers and reflections based in spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon; it is published weekly by the US Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
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June 26, 2015

 


 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
In the final meditation of his book, The Retreat with the Sacred Heart, Fr. Dehon imagines Jesus speaking directly to his followers, saying, “I had compassion on the people, the crowds who lacked spiritual and temporal goods.  What they lacked back then, people are still lacking today: the bread of justice, the bread of charity, the bread of the apostolate.  The working poor are often oppressed by all sorts of private and social injustice.  The heavy burden of usury weighs on them in many ways. 
 
“The crowds are like sheep without a shepherd.  No one gives them instruction, which is food for the soul; or charity, which is food for the body.  The people need apostles to teach them.  All these poor and needy souls are as numerous as a vast harvest of grain, and they are waiting for laborers.
 
“The reign of my Heart in society is the reign of justice, charity, mercy, and compassion for the lowly, the humble, and for those who suffer.  I am asking you to dedicate yourself to all these works, to encourage them and to cooperate with them.  Support those institutions which can contribute to the reign of social justice and which defend the weak against oppression by the powerful.
 
“Have courage then.  The harvest is great and the workers are few.  Souls are like low-hanging fruit that is ripe and easy to pluck.  But these souls are waiting for apostles, people of action and works.  My heart is overflowing with this apostolic spirit and the desire to spread it.  In your fervent prayers ask that many people will respond to my appeal so that they may become apostles of the Heart.  Let my Heart rule over your interior life, and work by prayer and action for the rule of my Heart in society.”

 
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, The Retreat with the Sacred Heart, 40th Meditation 
 
 
 
 

 
 
Lived and Shared: Contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
 
“Adveniat Regnum Tuum” [Thy Kingdom Come], comes from that beautiful prayer Jesus taught his earliest followers to pray.  For most Catholics, that same prayer remains part of our daily prayer routine.  I use the word routine because I don’t think most of us think about what it is we are asking of God when we pray.  Many of us grew up in a Church where daily prayer and Sunday Mass were viewed as obligations rather than as enthusiastic responses to God’s love and care for us; a Church that told us that non-Catholics were unfortunate human beings who had no chance of getting into Heaven.  
 
This included my own mother who was told by the priest on her wedding day, after he received her vows, that she was going to hell and was going to take this nice Catholic boy [my father] with her.  As a result, many of us were left with an image of a stern, judgmental, punishing, exclusive God with little chance of being accepted into this Kingdom we dutifully pray for every day.  There was little joy in life and even less hope and consolation in the practice of one`s faith as most of us were doomed to purgatory.
 
For me a perfect example of this reality unfolded during my time as pastor at St. Mary’s in Hagersville, Ontario [1998-2003].  The community had a small, regional hospital with a long-term geriatric unit on the top floor where I was a regular visitor.  For about two years I would get emergency calls [always at night, of course] to visit a ninety-something year-old bachelor every two or three months who was always next to death.  I would dutifully anoint him and then follow up the next day expecting to find that he had passed away only to find him enjoying breakfast or lunch.  
 
Finally I thought enough is enough.  I’m not going to keep doing this and so I said to him, “Joe, what’s going on?  I’ve anointed you at least eight times and here we are.  You’re probably going to outlive me!”  And then it came out, those most heartbreaking words that I think a minister of the Gospel could possibly hear.  Joe told me that he was afraid to die and God was going to punish him for all the things he had done wrong in his life.  Seeing him suffer so was very upsetting and it took me a few minutes to regain my composure.
 
How sad to think that this kind and good man who had come to Canada from Ireland at a young age, worked hard all his life, and went faithfully to Church every Sunday for most of his adult life, could end up in such an emotional prison, afraid to die, convinced that God’s Kingdom was beyond his reach.  I wish Joe`s story was unique to him but sadly we know that is not the case.  Many of our brothers and sisters live with that same fear; convinced that God is going to get even with them.  I’ve met many of them personally in and out of the Church.
 
What a different image of God Joe had than the one Jesus revealed to his followers.  What a different image of God from the one that inspired and informed the life of Fr. Dehon, who saw in the Heart of Christ the perfect embodiment of God`s unconditional love for each of his children.  What a different notion of God than the one that called me to the SCJs.
 
Somehow, I knew that I had to offer Joe a different image of God.  I shared with him the Gospel account of Jesus and the two thieves on the Cross, and the significance of this story for us.  I asked Joe to think about what that story means for us.  Here’s Jesus, in agony and about to take his last breath.  And yet what does he do at such a time?  He gives hope and comfort to a man who has obviously wasted his life.  Rather than condemn him, Jesus says to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
 
“Joe, if Jesus is willing to extend God’s mercy to this thief and invite him to the heavenly Kingdom, then surely that same mercy will be shown to you.  Please know that God loves you and is not waiting for you to die in order to punish you.  God is waiting for you to come home.  Jesus makes it very clear that we have nothing to fear in life, not even death.  Easter is our proof of that.”  I left the hospital feeling Joe was finally at peace.  He died the next day.
 
In his homily on the feast of Christ the King in 2012, at the reception of six new members into the College of Cardinals, Pope Benedict said that the Church “invites us to celebrate the Lord Jesus as King of the Universe.  She calls us to look into the future, or more properly into the depths, to the ultimate goal of history, which will be the definitive and eternal Kingdom of Christ.”  I believe what he went on to say next succinctly sums up our calling as Dehonians.
 
“To you dear and venerable Brother Cardinals—I think particularly of those created yesterday—is entrusted the demanding responsibility to bear witness to the Kingdom of God, to the truth.  This means working to bring out ever more clearly the priority of God and his will over the interests of this world and its powers.  Become imitators of Christ, who before Pilate, in the humiliating scene described by the Gospel, manifested his glory, that of loving to the utmost, giving his own life for those whom he loves.  This is the revelation of the Kingdom of Jesus.  And for this reason, with one heart and one soul, let us pray, “Adveniat Regnum Tuum.”   
 
Paul Tennyson, SCJ


 


 
 
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
 
Sometimes, what’s simple is the most profound.  Simplicity elegantly captures and trains the eye to notice what is of the essence.  Easily identified as the Heart of Jesus, this image displays a plain but large heart, which appears even larger as subtle rays of energy emanate all around it.  Surmounted by a cross, this universal symbol of love suggests that great love always involves great sacrifice. 
 
What is most striking about this image, however, is not Jesus’ heart, but rather his arms held out as wide as possible.  This expansive gesture is gracious and generous, open and available.  Jesus’ body language welcomes and invites, and anticipates an intimate embrace.  His vulnerable pose is inclusive and unconditional, loving and forgiving.  Jesus’ arms begin to tell the story of his heart and await our response to complete it.    
 
This image is in the SCJ chapel in Kinshasa, Congo
 
 
 



 
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

In his meditation, Fr. Dehon imagines Jesus saying, “The reign of my Heart in society is the reign of justice, charity, mercy, and compassion.  Work by prayer and action for the rule of my Heart in society.”  In what specific way do you sense God calling you to respond?
 
How well do you accept God’s mercy for yourself?  How well do you extend, in word and deed, God’s mercy to others?
 
For you, what is the essence of the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus?
 

 

 



 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

The Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart was founded on June 28, 1878, when Leo John Dehon first professed his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  As part of the emblem of the Congregation, he chose the words, “Adveniat Regnum Tuum” [Your Kingdom Come].  In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the Dehonian Family as it does its best to reveal the Kingdom of God.  The following prayer, written by Leo John Dehon, SCJ, concludes the 40th Meditation in his book, The Retreat with the Sacred Heart.
 
Lord,
May your kingdom come!
May your Divine Heart reign among us!
I passionately desire this
and I want to work for this.
And first of all, I want to give you my heart!
Come, live and reign in me.
Give me your spirit,
make me know your will,
direct and govern my entire life.
Also, make me an ardent and zealous apostle
of the reign of your Divine Heart in society.
Amen!

 
 
The backstory
 
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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