March 10, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Every person has inalienable dignity, duties, and rights. Whatever social class one belongs to, every person is endowed not only with a living body, but also with an intelligent, free, and immortal soul which God created. Having come from God, this soul should serve God and return to God.
Whether this soul lives in the body of a worker at the bottom of a dark coal mine, or in the body of a well-fed financier living in the lap of luxury, it doesn’t matter. In reality, both of them have the same value. They have equal personal dignity, equal moral responsibility, the same eternal destiny, and both of them have been given earthly existence so that through truth, morality, and religion they may strive for eternal life.
For this reason, every person is deserving of respect and justice, and every person has a basic right to enjoy, here on earth, the conditions which nourish their intellectual, moral, and spiritual life. They have a right to daily bread for themselves and their family. They have a right, equally and even more so, to humane treatment, to a sufficient degree of education and liberty, and to the opportunity to worship and serve God.
This truth seems commonplace to us. Would to God that it were so!
The Christian Social Manual, Chapter One: “General Principles”
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? [Isaiah 58:6-7]
In the summer of 1979, I travelled to Latin America with members of the 8th Day Center for Social Justice to try to understand the efforts of the Church to be with the people in societies oppressed by autocratic rulers, including the use of their military and police. In the outskirts of Lima, the capital of Peru, I stayed with a Maryknoll priest, Peter Rogeirre, who lived in a small house in the area called Ciudad de Dios, the City of God. This city was inhabited by families driven off their lands—where they were able to live meager lives through subsistence farming—by economic and political changes.
Through the years, these internally displaced migrants arrived in the dead of night in waves of thousands of men, women, and children, and set up temporary shelters made of scrap cardboard, wood, sticks, and stones on the harsh, desert-like outskirts of this sprawling city. The sheer number of immigrants made it impossible for local authorities to displace them. Each new invasion expanded these pueblos jovenes, or young towns, to hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.
One morning, Fr. Peter took me and a few others to an area where a woman, looking more aged than her years, stood, in what I would say was a state of shock, with her two small children amid the rubble of their shelter, their home, which was destroyed during the previous night’s storm. [For some reason, I imagined, probably correctly, that her husband was in the city looking for work to buy food for the day.]
Fr. Peter gave her a few Peruvian dollars, to which I added a few more, to help her buy one 6 x 10 foot straw mat which would act as one wall of another, better home, similar to the homes other families in the area were able to build after saving enough to purchase “upgraded” materials. To this day, I feel guilty that I only gave her those few dollars, and I wonder where she would have gotten the money to buy the three other mats and roof necessary for the immediate shelter she needed for herself, her husband, and children.
When I returned to the comfort of my community house in Chicago, this woman and her children became an icon for me which asked, “What will my life, my faith, do to give her and her children greater control over her life?” To this day, she and her children, and others living in such desperate conditions, continue to challenge the integrity of my relationship with God.
Father Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, of which I have been a vowed member since 1968, said it well when calling us to the works of justice: "Charity is a palliative which is always welcome and often necessary; but it does not attack the root of the evil." For these thirty-plus years, I have tried to stay true to this call of God I first recognized in this woman and her children. I must admit that the journey has not always been easy, as I have struggled with my own limitations and the criticism of others. In the end, however, I know that this internal and public struggle is the fasting of which Isaiah speaks.
Bob Bossie, SCJ
Member of the Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation Commission
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Why do you think it is so difficult for our world community to afford every individual respect and justice?
Take some time to reflect upon Isaiah 58:1-12. How do you respond to the prophet’s interpretation of the fasting that God desires? How might you incorporate this type of fasting into your spiritual discipline?
How does the practice of your faith give people living in desparate conditions greater control over their lives?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
During the Lenten season, the Church urges Christians to evaluate the quality of their spiritual discipline of fasting, whether from food or injustice. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer those who would benefit from your spiritual practice of fasting. You may find helpful the following Lenten Act of Reparation taken from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
We thank you, Lord Jesus,
for the love you showed us.
You brought abundant life to a broken world.
You brought light to those in darkness.
And in the great sign of love,
you allowed your heart to be pierced,
that all might be one.
And so, Lord,
as we remember your opened heart,
we offer you our lives.
Send us into the world as you were sent.
May our hands and hearts be yours:
standing with those who are broken or despised,
sharing the fullness of grace we have received,
and showing the love you have given the world.
In this way,
may our reparation be a rule of life.
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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