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Dehonian Spirituality includes prayers and reflections based in spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon; it is published weekly by the US Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
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March 18, 2016
Year of Mercy: Counsel the Doubtful
 
 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
“Let us fear nothing, even when we do not understand God’s plans,” Fr. Dehon wrote in the Spiritual Directory of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  “He will often demand of us the sacrifice of Moriah, a sacrifice which will seem to destroy God’s promises.”  [Genesis 22:1-19 recounts the story of God testing Abraham, by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on Mt. Moriah]. 
 
In such a seemingly conflictual situation, Fr. Dehon reasons, “Is it possible to doubt the goodness of our Lord, his solicitude, his mercy?  He who became human for us and died for us, will he neglect to do anything that may be advantageous to us?  He is like a mother to us.  ‘As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you’ [Isaiah 66:13].”    
 
Dehon understands that the Church’s ministers must reflect this compassion of Jesus.  In the 14th meditation of his book, The Priestly Heart of Jesus, he writes, “Our Lord’s Heart is full of tenderness for his mission.  ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ [Matthew 11:28].  Such a one must the priest be.  He must seek out those who suffer, visit them, comfort, and console them.” 
 
Giuseppe Manzoni, SCJ, in his biography, Leo Dehon and His Message, highlights Fr. Dehon’s particular gift to counsel priests.  “Diocesan priests gladly went to Dehon and sought him out as confessor because of his fatherly kindness.  He exercised a great moral influence on them. 


“The pastor of Fontanelle-en-Thiѐrache recalls having done everything he could to win back a wayward priest, but his efforts proved useless.  At that point he convinced the man to go and see Dehon.  It took only one meeting for him to straighten out his life.  Even Bishop Duval [who maintained a deep-seated prejudice against Dehon], recognized Dehon’s goodness and undisputed spiritual influence.  He would counsel his priests, who had difficulties, to have recourse to him.”
 
By word and example, Fr. Dehon encouraged everyone to pray, “In you, O Heart of Jesus, have I hoped; let me never be confounded.”
 
 
 
  
 
 

Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
 
In my experience as a pastoral counselor, people seek counseling because they are either “stuck” in some way or “out of control” in some area of their lives.  Regardless of the presenting problem(s), the issue of doubt will inevitably surface.  Doubt has to do with questions about certainty, belief, and trust, and the lack thereof.
 
While doubt is common in such psychological problems as anxiety, depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, spiritual doubts regarding questions of faith are not uncommon and need to be worked through as well.  No one is exempt from doubt, as it is a part of being finite and human.  For some people, however, doubt can be the cause of much anguish and even despair.
 
Let me give two examples from my practice.  While I may have a particular person in mind, the details are disguised to insure full confidentiality.  The first example has to do with doubt regarding the forgiveness of sin.  I recall a woman who presented with severe depression, with doubt as one of its manifestations.  In her case, it was doubt about whether God had forgiven her sins.  She feared going to confession and never felt truly forgiven and liberated. 
 
An insight she gained in counseling was that she tended to project onto God her experience of her father who was judgmental, demanding, and punitive toward her.  As she learned more about who God truly is, especially that God’s very essence is mercy, she no longer doubted God’s forgiveness.  In short, while she still feels hurt by her father’s mean words and actions, it no longer affects her relationship with God.
 
Another example comes from a woman who came into counseling grieving the death of her spouse.  She had doubts especially regarding two things: first of all, whether she could move on with her life without him; and secondly, about whether she would see him again.  As one would expect, as she became more convinced of eternal life, she was able to move on with her own life. 
 
In the end, counseling the doubtful is about helping another person deepen his or her sense of hope.  We only have to recall the words, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” [1 Peter 3:15].  As much in life is uncertain and unclear, ultimately, everyone has to learn how to deal patiently with ambiguity and the reality of mystery. 
 
Mark Fortner, SCJ
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

In this Holy Year of Mercy, how might you practice the spiritual work of mercy of counseling the doubtful, even if you aren’t a professional counselor?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Embrace your own doubts and ask the Heart of Jesus to comfort you and increase your hope.
  • When listening to someone’s doubts or fears, resist trying to “fix” the situation.  Simply be a comforting presence.
  • If appropriate, encourage the person to get professional help and assure her/him that asking for help is truly a sign of strength.
 
 
 
 
 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all people who bear an unnecessarily heavy burden of doubt as well as those who counsel them to deepen a sense of hope.  You may find helpful the following prayer, based on Psalm 14, composed by Charles Flood, SCJ, and included in his book, Water and Enrich My Heart, Prayers Based on the Psalms.
 
I have never deeply doubted your existence, Lord,
but there are times when the other side
seems to be winning the major victories.
Sometimes it takes a deeper faith
than I feel I have,
but you let me know in little ways
that those who have deepest confidence in you
often have to go through these dry places
to find the refreshment of the green places.
In trust I will ever recall your greatness
and place in you all my love.
 
.
 

 
The backstory
 
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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The Dehonian Spirituality updates are edited by David Schimmel, U.S. Province director of Dehonian Associates. Questions or comments for David? 
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