January 6, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Every founder is imbued with an intense experience of faith, which he or she articulates in concepts and images that others may find extreme or rigorous, and usually time-bound. Yet, it would be a mistake to equate the articulation with the foundational faith experience.
The Rule of Life of the Priests of the Sacred Heart understands Fr. Dehon’s faith experience in the words of St. Paul, who spoke of Jesus as the one “who loved me and gave himself for me [Galatians 2:20]. For Dehon, this overwhelmingly loving gift of Jesus’ self—unconditional and uncompromising—could only be articulated adequately by concepts of profound humility and victimhood, and images of the sacrificial Paschal lamb, the pierced side, and priesthood.
Through this lens, he interpreted Scripture, but particularly every aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. Through this same lens, he evaluated his own experiences and responses. To the degree humanly possible, Fr. Dehon wanted to love and give himself as completely as Jesus does, regardless of the consequences. With this perspective, Dehon meditates on the significance of Jesus’ baptism.
“The baptism of the Savior is the last act of his long preparation of thirty years. He already offered himself publicly to his Father at his circumcision and at his presentation in the Temple. He comes again to offer himself at the banks of the Jordan River.
“John the Baptist, appointed prophet of God, calls the Israelites to a baptism of repentance in order to prepare them for the reign of the Messiah. Jesus has no need of baptism, no more than he needed circumcision or the presentation and redemption in the Temple. But he comes as a victim and repairer. He takes on himself the responsibility for our sins.
“He wants to fulfill completely the ancient law, which was a law of purification and preparation. He submitted to baptism, not for himself, but for humanity. He is immersed in the water as a sign of death and resurrection. His baptism symbolizes and announces his actual death and resurrection, whereas our baptism expresses only a spiritual death to sin and resurrection to supernatural life. Now Jesus is ready for his messianic and reparative mission.
“In baptism, Jesus offered himself as a victim. His Father appoints him as high priest of the new law. Jesus will exercise his priesthood in his three years of preaching, in the sacrifice on Calvary, and in the Eucharistic sacrifice. He is priest and victim; priest and lamb. He will approach the altar to immolate himself at the appointed time. His divine Heart has no other goal.
“This is my model: Jesus, humble of Heart; Jesus, victim of love.” From this meditation, Fr. Dehon draws lessons of love and devotion, and humility and self-sacrifice, concluding, “Jesus expects these acts from me, not only for my salvation, but as a means of the apostolate.”
The Year with the Sacred Heart, February 26: “Baptism of the Savior”
Oblation: The daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
The ritual of baptism represents a harrowing rite of passage that only a firm relationship of love between God and the individual can bring to a successful conclusion. Unfortunately, centuries of repetition and inattention have gradually dulled this ritual’s significance.
People smile adoringly when the priest pours a gentle stream of water over a baby’s forehead. People giggle infectiously when the priest empties pitchers of water over an adult kneeling in a wading pool. However clouded, the meaning of baptism remains: if you are willing to die, you will experience abundant life; if you are not willing to die, you will not experience abundant life.
The vocation of a baptized Christian is a lifetime commitment of loving oblation or self-offering. Major transitions include the passage from childhood to adulthood, midlife questioning, dealing with tragedy or chronic illness, and the final moments of physical dying. More subtle transitions include confrontations with injustice, tests of integrity, and faithfulness to the less than exciting aspects of daily living.
The necessary dying required to navigate these passages to a fuller life is practically impossible without the sustaining power of love. The willingness to die to self is incomprehensible to those who fear to look beyond their own self-preservation.
The sacrament of baptism announces, “You are God’s beloved.” Those who believe it die and rise numerous times throughout life to their own personal benefit and to the benefit of a world moving toward the reign of God.
Image by Herman Falke, SCJ, “Jesus Baptized in the Jordan,” carved cedar.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
How do you understand the sacrament of baptism?
How do you respond to the baptismal belief that “you are God’s beloved?”
How have you experienced the dying and rising of transitional life passages?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
This year, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, January 9. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all baptized Christians who take up the challenge to live as God’s beloved. You may find helpful the following Oblation Prayer for Epiphany, taken from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
when John called for repentance,
Jesus came to the Jordan
to accept baptism at his hands.
Then your Spirit came upon him,
and you revealed him as you beloved Son
and the herald of your good news
send your Spirit upon us.
Remind us that we are your beloved children.
Fill us with Jesus’ spirit of penance:
hearing and keeping your word,
seeking your reign above all other things,
and trusting in you until death.
through Christ we offer you our lives.
Send us forth in service to your name.
May our deeds and words reveal
the abundant riches of your Son’s love.
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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