September 30, 2016
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
When Fr. Leo John Dehon founded the Priests of the Sacred Heart, he sought to embrace a spiritual concept that falls hard on contemporary ears. Although it was his preference, he did not seriously consider naming his community, “Victims of the Heart of Jesus,” since it would seem “sheer folly” to the sensibilities of northern France. In southern France, however, this title had been embraced by two religious communities of women, and proposed for a religious community of men.
Yet, the concept of “victim” was problematic for another reason. Dehon’s social writings were filled with negative connotations of the word. He decries “victims of godless schools,” seamstresses who “are the victims offered every day to consumption,” and the exploited laborer who is a “victim of injustices.” Although he never articulated it as such, he seems to have wanted to offer himself as a victim for the victims. For Dehon, “oblate” and “priest” were acceptable synonyms, which carried the intention of offering oneself totally to God’s will in an era of fanatic secularism and unfettered industrialization.
In the last year of his life, Fr. Dehon was still struggling to articulate clearly the spiritual insight of victimhood. He seems to have reached some clarity when introduced to the writings of the young Carmelite nun, Sr. Thérѐse of the Child Jesus.
In his Diary, he writes, “A soul, moved by the passion of our Lord and by the sight of the world’s sins, can offer himself to God to be united to our Lord’s passion either in order to make reparation for the offenses committed against God, or to save souls by making expiation for their faults. Providence will allow these souls to pass through some reparatory sufferings. This, I believe, is the kind of offering that some Congregations of victim souls make.
“The way of Sr. Thérѐse of the Child Jesus is a little different; she does not offer herself as a victim of justice, instead she offers herself as a victim or a holocaust to the merciful love of Jesus. Perhaps, if it would be pleasing to Jesus to ask this soul for some reparatory sufferings, she is completely ready to carry the cross out of love for Jesus and for souls. And love itself brings its own sufferings. The loving soul suffers from its own imperfections, and it suffers to see that Jesus receives so little love and is so often offended. This soul’s love is going to grow into a martyrdom of love.
“Our distinctive spirit is the ‘life of love and immolation.’ The immolation of love is its prevailing spirit, with some element of reparatory immolation. We were born of the spirit of Margaret Mary while simultaneously drawing close to that of Sr. Thérѐse. Let us follow the attraction that grace inspires in us.”
Daily Notes, April 1925
Image: Carved wood statue of St. Thérѐse of Lisieux in Our Lady of the Sioux chapel, St. Joseph’s Indian School, Chamberlain, SD
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
This Indonesian depiction of the Heart of Jesus uses the language of Hindu symbolism. The emphasis in this image is not on Jesus as guru or teacher, traditionally depicted sitting cross-legged or in the lotus position. Rather, Jesus sits with both of his legs down, indicating that he is ready to help, with great compassion, those who call upon him. His feet rest upon a pedestal of lotuses, signifying the creative forces of the universe. The crown symbolizes not only supreme authority over the world, but also unknowable reality.
Through Christian eyes, this image highlights the reign of the Heart of Jesus in souls and in society, as well as the unfathomable depths of Jesus’ love, even to death on a cross. It is a fitting visual to Jesus’ words in Leo John Dehon’s meditation from the Retreat with the Sacred Heart. “My Heart was filled with love and charity for all, and when this love encountered misfortune, it became compassion: for mercy overflows when a very loving heart confronts overwhelming misery. This profound and active compassion was one of the underlying motives for my actions. This is why I came to earth: to give glory to my Father and to save those who were lost” [40th Meditation]. Could there be a more creative force in the universe than that of compassion?
Image: Cast resin sculpture, Indonesia
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
“Victim or holocaust to the merciful love of Jesus.” “A martyrdom of love.” “The immolation of love.” Although these phrases seem so foreign and perhaps even repulsive to contemporary ears, Dehon’s insight, that “love itself brings its own sufferings,” rings true in every age. What is your experience of loving deeply, and the sacrifice or sufferings that it entails?
Fr. Dehon advises, “Let us follow the attractions that grace inspires in us.” What are the words you would use, and how do you explain the phenomenon of love entwined with suffering?
“Mercy overflows when a very loving heart confronts overwhelming misery.” Where have you witnessed this truth in your lived experience?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
On Saturday, October 1, the Church honors the memory of St. Thérѐse of Lisieux, a member of the Carmelite Order. In your kindness throughout the week, please remember in your prayers the men and women Carmelites throughout the world. The following prayer was composed by Venerable Catherine McAuley, RSM [1778-1841], founder of the Sisters of Mercy.
I am thine for time and eternity.
Teach me to cast my whole self
into the arms of Providence
with the most lively, unlimited confidence
in thy compassionate, tender pity.
Grant me, O most Merciful Redeemer,
that whatever thou dost ordain or permit
may be always acceptable to me.
Take from my heart all painful anxiety;
suffer nothing to afflict me, but sin;
nothing to delight me,
but the hope of coming
to the possession of thee, my God,
in thine own everlasting kingdom.
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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