September 4, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
“Through animals, the Creator gave us many lessons in virtue, showing us the symbol of courage in the lion, temperance in the desert horse, foresight in the ant, work and discipline in the bee, and social order in the residence of the beaver.
“Yet, the Creator especially teaches education by the example of birds. They are artists, architects, musicians, great travelers, sometimes noble and valiant, sometimes soft and lovable, gentle and protective, active, generous, and dedicated. They are, you will see, wonderful educators.
“The eagle is the king of the skies and the symbol of power. He is noble, great, courageous, and tireless. How well he knows to be kind to his eaglets. He cares for and feeds them with dedication. The eagle teaches them to hunt but does not require them to go further, unless they are strong enough to do it safely.
“Among the partridges, the father shares with the mother the task of raising their little ones. They accompany them together. It is not uncommon to see them squatting together, covering the offspring whose heads with lively eyes pop out on all sides. How much paternal love inspires courage in the most timid animals when a small dog threatens their little ones! The father drags his wing to lure the enemy, running sufficiently quickly so as not to be caught, but not enough to discourage the hunter. Meanwhile, the mother, making the least noise, takes the small ones far away from the hunter. Ah, if in all families both parents gave the same care to the temporal, moral, and spiritual life of their children.
“The chickadee is always busy, always moving. She works without rest from morning to evening. She builds a very wide nest for her small size. She has intrepid courage and tireless activity. And what is rare among birds, she is not concerned only about the present need, but she has the long view and always has provisions hidden around the vicinity of her nest. She is a little capitalist. She’ll have the savings if a savings bank is instituted among birds.
“A friend of humankind, the swallow makes her nest at our windows, never in the woods. How busy and devoted she is to her little ones! She quickly builds a nest with a hard cement that she carries there with the tip of her wing. It takes just eight days and, a very remarkable and unique thing, she is helped by several companions. It is a mutual aid society among birds.
“The goldfinch is a model father. He attends fully to his duties as head of the family. He helps his wife build the nest. A good worker, he regularly brings food home during the brooding and education of the little ones.
The bird of paradise is all dressed in silk, velvet, and lights. He feeds his young with herbs and dew. Don’t we, as well, gently choose spiritual foods for our children by ensuring they hear and read nothing that isn’t pure, superior, and proper to make them people of faith and good?
“The pelican, you know, is the symbol of sacrifice. Taking from a sack of reserves that he has under his beak, he deprives himself of food in order to feed his little ones. This has caused people to think that he feeds them with his blood. His devotion goes to the point of sacrifice and heroism.
“Dignity and goodness, activity and amenity, piety, sensitivity and devotion—you want to unite all of these diverse qualities in education like the bee marries the perfume of the flowers. The Church urges you to be noble educators, devoted, and sensitive. This is your daily assignment. Give then, all your care to the education of your dear children, but don’t forget to encourage at the same time as you instruct. Example is worth more than advice. You know the French proverb about what makes an education: Lesson starts, example finishes.
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Excerpts from the address, “Speaking of Birds: Lessons from Nature About Education,” given at an educational conference to the members of the Society of St. Francis Xavier, a mutual aid society, on January 29, 1888.
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image for God's loving concern for all creation
How can a person read the heart of another? Because this awareness travels on a frequency outside the range of words filled with assurances and knowledge skewed with assumptions, children are particularly adept at discerning who cares for them and what this person has “at heart.”
In this mural, Jesus comfortably moves with a crowd of young children, who sport school uniforms. Inevitably, the children run toward him, follow him, move in close to him, and hug him. They sense that Jesus cares for them and has their well-being “at heart.” A grinning boy can’t resist waving to the viewer. Is he simply drawing attention to himself, or celebrating his friendship with Jesus and inviting others to join his good fortune?
By his presence, Jesus teaches the value inherent in these young people; by loving them as they are, he strengthens their self-image. Using his hands, he communicates with a touch of acknowledgement, affection, and blessing.
Only grownups, who have become as adept as little children, will be able to read accurately the Heart of Jesus. Being simultaneously drawn to Jesus’ Heart by unconditional love and sent out from Jesus’ Heart to be present to the world, they make incarnate, with the work of their hands, what God has at heart.
Mural on the outside wall of a preschool run by the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary, in Kisangani, Congo.
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Even if you’re not a teacher in the classroom, how might you give “all your care to the education of your dear children”?
By your own example, what lessons can you teach the youth of today?
In what one, small way can you make incarnate what God has “at heart”?
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers all educators, supporting staffs, and students, especially at the SCJ Schools in Collaboration [Holy Family School and Sacred Heart School in Mississippi, Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Texas, St. Joseph’s Indian School in South Dakota, St. Martin of Tours School in Wisconsin, and Gymnasium Leonium in Germany]. You may find the following prayer helpful.
whose open-ended questions
send us searching within
for the wisdom of experience,
the lessons of the heart,
and answers that lead to more questions,
mentor us in your divine ways.
May we be humble in the face of mystery,
yet excited to explore the world’s wonders,
which continually open up
Gathered in your school of love,
may we learn from your example
to forgive, to serve, and to love one another.
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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