July 10, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Reflecting on how he used some of his leisure time while studying law in Paris, Leo Dehon wrote, “I took lessons in piano and painting but I was never an artist. I devoted quite a bit of time to these arts but without much profit. I took painting lessons from Mr. Noel, a noted “sea-painting” artist. Here I met the artistic world in favorable circumstances. Some of the art students did quite well. I learned much about the art of painting: an artist needs a long contact with the models he imitates, a gracious and well-adorned studio, agile fingers, a rich and alert imagination, much feeling, moderation in work so as to have time for contemplation, and a loving and joyful soul.”
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Notes on the History of My Life,
Third Period—Paris 1859-1864
Herman Falke, SCJ, Widow of Nain, terra cotta sculpture
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
As a Priest of the Sacred Heart, I am, first of all, overwhelmed by the love of God especially as manifested by the actions of Christ. Secondly, I naturally follow that up in my art by expressing my appreciation of the life of Christ by making this the main focus of my sculptures.
The approach of the Eastern Churches has always been to stress the divinity of Christ; their artists portrayed Christ as always in full control from manger to the cross. To me, in my Western culture, suffering and redemption make better sense in a fully human Jesus who accepts being victimized in utter vulnerability. In making this complete surrender, he indeed becomes the Incarnation of God's love.
In my art I want to touch the unconditional realness of his humanness, and I use the emotional impact of ordinariness, such as nakedness, genuine pain, even impulsiveness of character.
Herman Falke, SCJ
Herman Falke, SCJ, Scourging, wood sculpture
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
The love of God, manifested by the words and actions of Christ, promises to quench thirst with “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” [John 4:14]. The Samaritan woman thirsts for love to replace her loneliness, respect to obliterate the prejudice she experiences, and relief from the burden of public opinion.
Followers of Jesus thirst for forgiveness to avoid condemnation, community to stave off isolation, and a sense of mission to overcome selfishness. Earth thirsts for balance rather than manipulation, healing in place of plunder, and connectedness instead of domination.
Gathering all these cravings into his own body, Jesus cries out of the cross, “I thirst.” Yet from his dead and wounded body flows a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life [cf. John 19:28-34].
Herman Falke, SCJ, Spring of Living Water, basswood sculpture
Oblation: the daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
For the spiritually inclined individual, the daily practice of offering oneself to God’s will has a lovingly optimistic appeal. Surely, training one’s focus and spending one’s energy on God’s plans will benefit individuals as well as the world community. Yet, beyond focus and energy, a life of oblation demands letting go of a tightly honed personal identity, a strong sense of satisfaction, and even the certainty of accomplishing God’s will.
The life of oblation is most sorely tested when the results of one’s efforts are less than positive, when life seems futile, and when the only attractive alternative is to stop trying. At these moments, oblation is grating, grueling, and gritty.
In a place of prayer and in a time of anxious decision-making, a disciple approaches Jesus. Judas’ embrace and kiss are at once gestures of intimacy and violence. Pressed against the rocks that supported him while at prayer, a vulnerable Jesus feels the crush of betrayal most acutely as he places his hand over his heart. Meanwhile, the hand behind Judas’ back beckons those who have come to initiate the process of Jesus’ execution.
What was true for Jesus’ life of oblation remains true for his followers. “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” [Sirach 2:1]
Herman Falke, SCJ, Betrayal, terra cotta sculpture
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What role does art play in your life? How might you allow art to awaken you, to touch you, to challenge you, and to affirm you?
What personal thirst do you ask Jesus to quench? What worldwide thirst are you willing to spend your life trying to quench?
How do you respond to the caution from the Book of Sirach, “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal”?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
Herman Falke, SCJ, Condemnation
, wood sculpture
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer artists, who help us notice what we always see and offer fresh insight into what we think we know. In your own efforts to renew the face of the earth, you may find helpful this Christmas Reparation Prayer adapted from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
to touch our hearts
you put aside your divine glory
and became a child.
To repair a broken world,
you embraced our poverty.
To bring us the friendship of God,
you offered yourself to your Father
and emptied yourself on our behalf.
We want to respond to the love you have shown us.
Come and live in our hearts today.
Help us build a world
where people make their own
the thoughts of God’s heart:
letting the oppressed go free
and breaking every yoke.
May your love reign in human hearts everywhere.
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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