June 2, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
This is the first of four installments of an article by Thomas Sheehy, SCJ, (pictured below) regarding the social dimension of Sacred Heart devotion, an understanding championed by Fr. Leo John Dehon.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is explosive. Beneath the charming symbol of a heart lies a force to detonate the world. When Christ said that he had come to earth with a sword, he might well have been referring to this devotion. It was meant to be unsettling, disturbing, revolutionary. The externals might appear to some as soft as a glimmering votive lamp, but the implications are as devastating as an atomic blast.
Unfortunately, many Catholics have never progressed beyond the votive lamp stage. At most, this devotion to the Heart of Christ prompts them to receive Holy Communion on First Friday [and this is admirable] and to ornament their homes with pictures of His Heart [which is also worthwhile]. But this is only one aspect. Religious exercises alone are not the sum total of this devotion which was meant to set the world on fire, not merely enkindle a warm glow in the hearts of self-satisfied Catholics.
Pius XII noted the shattering implications when he asked this question: “Faced with so many evils which today more than ever deeply disturb individuals, homes, nations, and the whole world, where is the remedy to be found?” His answer focused distinctly on devotion to the Sacred Heart.
The saintly Pope enumerates the pious exercises contained within the devotion: Holy Mass, Eucharistic adoration, observance of the First Friday, etc., but he also elaborates the social repercussions this devotion should have in the world about us. It begins in the sanctuary, but to be complete it must penetrate to every level of life. Like the rays of Christ’s heart, it was meant to be effusive.
The Social Reality of Sacred Heart Devotion, First Installment, Thomas J. Sheehy, SCJ, The Reign of the Sacred Heart, October 1969
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian Spirituality
This is the first of four reflections by David Jackson on how he grew to appreciate the social dimension of Sacred Heart devotion.
In 1971, I was missioned to Mississippi. At the time, Sr. Ida Mitten was doing outreach work to the Black community. One winter night she invited me to visit a family whose child had just died. We drove to a shack a distance from Walls, Mississippi. I saw her minister to this family.
She asked the next day if I wanted to go to the funeral. We went together to a small church building located in the midst of a cotton field. The people were awaiting the arrival of the minister from Memphis. Sr. Ida invited me to tell the young children about the Christmas story. It finally became clear that the minister was not coming and so Sr. Ida [after consulting with the family] asked me to have the burial service for the child.
My experience with Black people was very limited. Our SCJ community had very few Black brothers or priests. As I returned to the SCJ community house in Walls that night I was quite shaken emotionally and intellectually. My heart went out to these people. They were living in a house that I would describe as a shack. In Walls, there was a Black community that literally lived on the other side of the railroad tracks. Their living conditions were harsh. I felt that the Emancipation Proclamation had not quite made it to Mississippi.
As I drove the back roads on many trips to Holy Spirit Church [which had no Black members], in Hernando, Mississippi, the contrast between homes of Whites and homes of Blacks was rather unbelievable. “Love and reparation.” I kept coming back to those words. What did they mean for me as a member of the Priests of the Sacred Heart? What did the reality of Northern Mississippi call me to as an SCJ? Sr. Ida was an elderly nun who was dedicating her life to serving the poor Black people of Desoto County, Mississippi. What should I do?
Sr. Ida’s ministry was expanded when Sr. Basil arrived, and later Sr. Mary Sue Scharfenberger and Sr. Ruth Mattingly. Sr. Basil worked out of Walls with Sr. Ida. Sr. Mary Sue and Ruth Ann began an outreach ministry to the poor of Hernando. I was in charge of Holy Spirit Church in Hernando, and when a trailer home was moved in next to the Thrift Store, the sisters began their ministry. As they gained more knowledge of the Black community, they came up with the idea to have a summer program.
This was the time when the myth of “separate but equal” was used to describe the reality of Black schools and White schools. We approached the local school authorities and they approved of the use of the “former” Black school. The sisters worked miracles in recruiting volunteer teachers from different locales. They also wrote begging letters asking for supplies.
The summer program was given the name, Kaleidoscope [by who else, the sisters]. My role was to drive a school bus borrowed from the Catholic school in Walls. I also was the chief lifeguard. The first year we went to a local reservoir. The second year a forward-looking man in management at the Holiday Inn University in Olive Branch reserved their pool for our use. During the summer program, two of our students climbed over the fence of a water reservoir and drowned. We were invited to the funeral service. In the little Black church, I was invited to say a few words. Through my tears I sang a few verses of the recent song, "God is Love,” which used a Negro Spiritual melody. I felt a new meaning dawning in our SCJ spirituality of "love and reparation."
David Jackson, former SCJ
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What would an “unsettling, disturbing, and revolutionary devotion to the Sacred Heart look like?
In what way can devotion to the Sacred Heart be the remedy for “so many evils which today more than ever deeply disturb individuals, homes, nations, and the whole world?”
How does “love and reparation” affect the lives of marginalized people?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the people who live on the margins of society as well as those who draw the circle larger by inviting them in. The following prayer, based on Psalm 68, is taken from Water and Enrich My Heart, Prayers Based on the Psalms, by Charles Flood, SCJ.
The world seems to be a place, Lord,
where your presence is forgotten,
and you seem to be asleep.
Even in the face
of apparent disappointment and callousness,
let me be a living witness
to your continuing love
for the oppressed and the downtrodden.
You are my constant champion.
Your name is omnipotence.
Restore in me a vibrancy
towards your divine presence
and perfect you work in me.
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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