August 7, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
While studying for the priesthood, Leo Dehon most likely meditated on death at least once a month, as was the pious custom. Yet, at age 25 and in the prime of his life, his reflections understandably remained academic. “Thinking of death,” he writes in his diary, “is an effective way of keeping us from sin and of distancing us from the vanities of the world. Every day I am dying [I Corinthians 15:31]. Our life is a continuous dying. Every moment slips away from us until we have exhausted all the time that God has allotted to us. Our life is a short series of relations with God, with others, and with ourselves. Our actions have an almost infinite value if they are done in the grace of Jesus Christ because then they are united to his.”
Nearly fifty years later, Fr. Leo John Dehon, priest, educator, founder, and advocate for social justice, considered death from a personal perspective. “At the approach of the great day, I feel the whole weight of my sins and all the insignificance of my efforts. The mercy of God is my whole hope together with the maternal kindness of Mary and the help of so many saints whom I loved so much and whom I invoked daily.”
At the conclusion of 1920, he notes in his diary, “I am approaching my seventy-eighth year! I am still with my weaknesses and faults and the judgment is at hand. I end the year with a prayer for a good death.” With the soberness that comes with aging, he admits, “I am in the last chapter of my life and in the vestibule of heaven. In my recollections there are many more dead than living and I feel sure that my dead continue to interest themselves on my behalf and help me. Almost all my relatives and friends have departed this life. I live with them in spirit.”
In the year that would be his last on earth, Fr. Dehon embraces his reality, writing, “My career is coming to an end; this is the twilight of my life. I have committed countless faults, but I trust in the mercy of the Sacred Heart.” Gradually, his focus shifts from the past to a future possibility. “I constantly think of heaven. I live with my heavenly protectors and friends. I burn with the desire to see them soon.”
Ultimately, Fr. Dehon’s lifetime goal was to be so completely united with the Heart of Jesus that the two of them would share the same thoughts, sentiments, and deeds. Now, at the close of his earthly life, John of the Heart of Jesus said with St. Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” [Philippians 1:23]. Fr. Dehon died on August 12, 1925.
Fr. Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Daily Notes, 1868, 1915, 1920, 1924, 1925
Oblation: the daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
For such a revered and accomplished priest and religious, Fr. Leo John Dehon’s protestations of personal sin, countless faults, and insignificant efforts seems exaggerated. Yet, the keen awareness of his weaknesses echoes the sentiments of those saints who left a written record of their spiritual journeys. It would appear that the closer the union with Christ becomes, the more one senses an unworthiness and incompatibility, which only God’s mercy can overcome.
Additionally, the greater one’s faith is, the more virulent one’s temptations are. Those who do not believe cannot doubt the tenets of faith; whereas, those who believe are subject to occasional doubts. Am I faithful to my commitment? Is the mercy of the Heart of Jesus real? Can I trust in it for myself? Ultimately, Fr. Dehon’s faith was stronger than his doubts.
As most people age, it is common for them to look back at their lives and attempt some assessment. With perspective, it is easier to recognize mistakes in judgment, the missteps that led to failures, and even personal and societal blind spots. The accumulation of wisdom, gained only by experience, can illuminate what might have been a preferable approach, but is powerless to change the past.
Making a daily act of oblation has the advantage of keeping a person of faith in the present moment. Although the words may vary, the sentiment remains the same: “Here I am; I delight to do your will, O my God” [Psalm 40:7-8]. Here I am today. If I choose to learn from the past, I am better able to discern and fulfill God’s will today. Mindful of human limitation, however, I anticipate gaining further insight as I move through another day of both faithful and flawed living.
Instead of the regret that says, “I wish I had done it differently,” the daily act of oblation promises, “Here I am; I will do it differently today.” Then, at the moment of death, the final act of oblation is a profound summary of the lifetime, daily prayer, “Here I am, as I am—loving but limited, faithful but flawed, trusting but tempted.” This very human self-offering can only delight the mercy of the Heart of Jesus.
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Spend some time thinking of or meditating on your death. Try to keep it personal rather than academic.
In what way is the daily act of oblation a prayer for a good death?
Imagine yourself at the moment of final judgement. What does the mercy of the Heart of Jesus feel like?
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all the loving but limited, faithful but flawed, trusting but tempted people you know. The following Prayer of Oblation comes from Fr. Dehon’s 23rd Meditation in his book, The Life of Love.
I understand the call of your heart,
and I am eager to respond to it.
I offer myself entirely to you, for love of you.
I wish to live in complete dependence on you,
to do everything for you and with you.
Receive my offering,
and nourish it by your grace
that it may be generous and persevering.
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.
Anyone is welcome to receive the Dehonian Spirituality email. Click here to add a subscriber.
The Dehonian Spirituality updates are edited by David Schimmel, U.S. Province director of Dehonian Associates. Questions or comments for David? Click here.
Click here to learn more about the Priests of the Sacred Heart on the US Province website. Click here to visit us on Facebook.