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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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October 21, 2016
 
 
 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
Leo Harmel, owner of a textile factory in rural Val-des-Bois, France, committed himself to “baptize the machine,” and fight against the ravages of the Industrial Revolution that cared more for the production of goods than for the people who produced them.  In 1876, Abbé Bieil, superior of St. Sulpice Seminary, invited Harmel to speak to the seminarians about social problems.  The invitation was renewed every year. 
 
For the times, this was a bold move, but other seminaries soon began to follow the example of St. Sulpice.  In 1887, those seminarians who showed the greatest sensitivity to the social question were invited to Val-des-Bois during their vacation, and eventually special days were set aside for study and prayer that focused on social issues.  Fr. Dehon was one of the organizers of these annual meetings for seminarians at the Val-des-Bois textile factory.
 
An August 1892 entry in his diary notes, “A study conference at Val-des-Bois for seminarians friendly to workers’ issues.  A delightful meeting.  There were 25 devout and distinguished young men there, the elite of our seminaries.  By setting his eyes on these young men, our Lord would have experienced the feeling that the young man in the Gospel touched off in his Heart.  He looked at him and he loved him [Mark 10:21].
 
His notes are more extensive in a July 1894 entry.  “Val-des-Bois.  Congress of social studies.  This is a meeting of seminarians.  Most come from Cambrai and St. Sulpice.  It is an elite group of intelligent and zealous young clerics.  There is nothing more pleasing than this meeting.  Fr. Perriot chairs the meetings with me.
 
“The program includes the history of the plan of work and corporations, and a summary study of the social question according to my Manual [of Social Studies].  The Franciscan, Fr. Jules, will talk about the Third Order; and the good father [Leo Harmel, the employer at Val-des-Bois] will talk about the factory.  The evenings are divided between discussions with delegates from the workshops, a talk on reparation to the Sacred Heart, and a time for recreation.  In the morning at Mass, Fr. Perriot and I alternatively give the instruction.  Nothing is missing from this charming Congress.  The general impression is excellent.”
 
In the July 1901 issue of his monthly magazine, The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Souls and in Societies, Fr. Dehon explained why he considered these meetings for seminarians to be so important.  “The priest must be the man of his times, always supported by the Church, the foundation and pillar of truth.  He must speak the language of his times and must not neglect the study of those grave problems which arouse the nation.
 
“The 20th century is undoubtedly the century of social questions; and the clergy will do holy work if, supporting the desires of him who was rightly called the workers’ Pontiff [Leo XIII], it lovingly studies the problems of today in order to be in a position to meet the steadily growing needs of the people, and to attain very soon the perfect harmony of the social classes.”
 
This was not, however, the view of some French bishops, who vigorously opposed the social studies meetings for seminarians at the Val-des-Bois textile factory.  In the same year that Dehon wrote his hope-filled magazine article, the meetings for seminarians were discontinued.
 
Daily Notes VI: August 12-15, 1892; X: July 2-5, 1894; “Social Action By the Clergy,” The Reign of the Sacred Heart in Souls and Societies, July 1901
 

 
  
 
 

Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation

In this image, Jesus is crucified, not on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem, but in the congested area of an industrial city where smoke-belching factories share the same air with the residents of high-rise tenements.  The wood of the cross appears to melt into a blood-red sky that projects an ominous atmosphere.  By contrast, the understated suggestion of Jesus’ Heart seems unobtrusive and gentle. 

Perhaps the genius of this artistic expression is to unmask the deception that injustice remains a defiant oppressor and that love is hopelessly anemic.  It is, after all, the continual beating of the compassionate Heart of Jesus that insists on spending one’s life to oppose the ravages of selfishness, opportunism, and inequality.  Jesus sheds his blood on the cross, and invites his followers to join him through their self-sacrifice, in order to halt the needless shedding of blood of their brothers and sisters.
 
Devotion to the Heart of Jesus, or more broadly the practice of religion, is indeed nourished by communal worship and personal prayer.  However, it clearly manifests itself in the gritty streets of the city and in the complex lives of people where a yearning for liberation can only be satisfied by a human touch that is thoroughly imbued with the compassion of God.
 
Image: “Heart of the Redeemer,” by Br. Venzo, SJ, International Institute of the Heart of Jesus, Rome
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

In a world economy that still seems to care more for the production of goods than for the people who produce them, what would it mean to “baptize the machine?”
 
How do you react to Fr. Dehon’s claim that “the clergy will do holy work if it lovingly studies the problems of today in order to meet the needs of the people?”
 
How do you understand devotion to the Heart of Jesus?  Where can you manifest this devotion with a human touch that is thoroughly imbued with the compassion of God?

 
 
 
 
 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all seminarians who are preparing for ministry, both social and sacramental, in the Church.  Although the following is designed for communal recitation, you may find helpful this Prayer of Reparation, based upon several paragraphs from the SCJ Rule of Life.
 
Leader:
Father, you have given us Jesus, the Living One.
In Him, the New Human has been created in your image,
in justice and holiness of truth.
He enables us to believe that despite sin, failures, and injustice,
redemption is possible, has been offered, and is already present.
His way is our way, and so we promise:
 
All:            
Following our Founder,
according to the signs of the times,
and in communion with the life of the Church,
we want to contribute to establishing
the reign of justice and Christian charity in the world.
 
Leader:
We know that today’s world is in the throes
of an intense struggle for liberation
from all that harms the dignity of people
and threatens the realization of their most profound aspirations
of truth, justice, love, and freedom.
May we search ever more faithfully with the poor and obedient Lord
for the will of the Father for us and for the world.
May we be attentive to the appeals He makes to us
through small and great events,
and in human expectations and achievements.
His way is our way, and so we promise:
 
All:           
[as above]
 
Leader:
In our manner of being and acting,
by participating in constructing the earthly city
and building up the Body of Christ,
we should be an effective sign
that it is the Kingdom of God and His justice
which should be sought above all and in all.
With the grace of God
we would like to bear prophetic witness by our religious life,
by involving ourselves without reserve
for the coming of the new humanity in Jesus Christ.
His way is our way, and so we promise:
 
All:           
[as above]
 
Leader:
Our special love shall go to those
who have the greatest need of being acknowledged and loved.
We shall do our utmost to avoid every form of social injustice.
Only in this way will we be able to awaken consciences
to the tragedies of misery and the demands of justice.
In this way we will be disciples of Fr. Dehon,
who was always concerned about being present
to the people of his time, especially the poorest,
those without resources, without reasons to live, and without hope.

His way is our way, and so we promise:
 
All:           
[as above]
 
 

 
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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