August 11, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Fr. Leo John Dehon proposed St. Stanislaus Kostka as a model for the young religious of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus. Stanislaus’ premature death as an 18-year-old Jesuit novice led Catholics to apply to him the words from the book of Wisdom. “He has sought to please God, so God has loved him; as he was living among sinners, he has been taken up…Coming to perfection in so short a while, he achieved long life” [Wisdom of Solomon 4:10-11, 14]. The spiritual intensity of his youth may have recommended him to young religious, but the trials out of which his piety grew surely had resonances with Fr. Dehon’s own experience.
Born in 1550, Stanislaus was the second son of a Polish senator. Stanislaus was educated by a private tutor until the age of 14, at which time his father sent Stanislaus and his older brother to a college in Vienna. His brother arranged for lodging off campus and was dismissive of Stanislaus’ attention to study and prayer, characterized by devotion to the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary.
During an illness at age 16, Stanislaus reconfirmed his desire to enter the Jesuits. The Jesuit Provincial in Vienna declined to admit him, fearing the anger of Stanislaus’ well-placed father. Undeterred, Stanislaus decided to walk 350 miles to Rome to request admittance from the Superior General of the Jesuits. Attempting to thwart Stanislaus’ intentions, his brother pursued him, but never found him. When he arrived in Rome, Stanislaus was accepted into the Jesuit novitiate at age 17.
Furious, his father wrote an angry letter. Having planned for Stanislaus a career as a diplomat, he accused his son of “following a profession unworthy of his birth.” Stanislaus replied respectfully, expressing his firm purpose to serve God as a Jesuit.
According to his novice master, Stanislaus endeavored to sanctify every ordinary action and expressed an uncommon love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Sadly, the oppressive heat of a Roman summer cut his life short, and before the completion of his novitiate, he died on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In contemplating Stanislaus’ life, Fr. Dehon no doubt thought about his own spiritual journey. Sent to a boarding college [high school] at age 13, it was during his second year that he sensed a strong calling to the priesthood. Successfully completing his studies, he asked permission to enter the seminary. His father replied that he would never consent, since “he wanted to see me attain a high position.”
As determined as Stanislaus, Leo Dehon recalled, “I let it be known that I really believed I was called to the priesthood and that I intended to remain faithful to that calling even if I should have to wait until my coming of age, when I would be free to do as I pleased.”
Dehon also experienced ridicule for practicing his faith when, at the Barbet Institute in Paris, many students “gave evidence of vulgarity and immorality.” On Sundays, “I tried to follow the Mass in my missal but caps were thrown at me from all sides and I was jeered.”
After receiving a doctorate in civil law, Leo Dehon once again spoke with his family about his vocation. “My father had promised that he would give me a free hand after I obtained my doctorate, but now that the crucial moment had arrived, he objected.” Seeing the hand of God in this struggle, which included a diversionary trip to the Orient, Leo recalls, “Divine Providence made use of my father’s disposition to lead me to the Holy Land where my faith and my vocation were to be strengthened.”
In concluding a meditation focused on Stanislaus’ life, Dehon wrote, “Piety, ardent love of the Eucharist, spirit of sacrifice, and filial devotion to Mary, these are the examples that St. Stanislaus has left us. Those are the resolutions that I must renew today.”
Image: Stanislaus Kostka, carved and painted wood, formerly in Divine Heart Seminary Chapel, Donaldson, Indiana.
Oblation: The daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
Writing in his novitiate journal, Stanislaus Kostka resolved, “I shall reflect on myself and ask: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?” In summary form, these questions comprise the basis of a traditional Jesuit practice called, Particular Examen, a daily, introspective review. While the practice soberly judges the past day’s activities and motivations, the subsequent awareness points to areas of personal growth and the small steps that can be taken the next day to foster that growth.
For members of the Dehonian Family, the life of oblation serves a similar function as the Particular Examen. The morning Prayer of Oblation orients an individual to move through the day continually seeking union with Christ, whose sentiments and actions fulfill the Father’s will. A Dehonian will ask, “What have I done with Christ? What am I doing with Christ? What ought I do with Christ? The Gospels and human experience direct this orientation.
The SCJ Rule of Life states, “We frequently dispose ourselves to hearing the Word of God. We contemplate the love of Christ in the mysteries of his life and in the life of people. Nourished by our attachment to him, we unite ourselves with his oblation for the salvation of the world. Thus, we are able to receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation in order to discover and truly know Christ the Lord, and understand the hope his call opens for us” [Rule of Life 77].
Like the Particular Examen, a life of oblation is a daily, gentle, step-by-step practice that continually makes accessible the abundant life that Jesus promises [John 10:10], not only for Dehonians, but also for those whom they serve.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What spiritual practice encourages you to review regularly the intentions and activities of your day, and learning from your experience, to renew your Christian commitment for the next day?
In what way does reflection on the Gospels and awareness of people’s circumstances indicate the will of God for you?
What have you done with Christ? What are you doing with Christ? What ought you to do with Christ?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
The Catholic Church honors the memory of Stanislaus Kostka on August 15. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all young religious that they may have the support they need to grow in their vocation. You may find helpful the following prayer, adapted from the booklet, “Dehonian Prayers,” from the SCJ British-Irish Province.
Father in heaven,
in every age
you call individuals to grow to perfection
in the image of your Son.
We thank you
for calling people throughout the world
to join the Congregation
of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus
and to be a vital presence of Christ’s redeeming love.
We pray that they may persevere
in a life dedicated to the Gospel
and grow daily in the generosity
which their life of oblation demands.
May all of us, through our witness,
help and inspire them
to pour out their lives
for the sake of your Kingdom.
We pray for those
responsible for their formation
that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit
in deepening faith, hope, and love.
Bind us all in unity and love
so that, by our lives,
we may announce
your loving kindness to our world.
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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