February 12, 2016
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
In 1877, Fr. Dehon traveled with Bishop Thibaudier, who was to fulfill his obligation to present the Pope with his regular assessment of the diocese. On their way to Rome, they lodged in several cities and took in the sights. On February 14, they were in Loreto, and celebrated Mass in the Holy House, which pious legend holds is the Palestinian dwelling where Mary was born and received the angel Gabriel’s message, and in the words inscribed above the altar of this shrine, “Here, the Word was made flesh.” Tradition says that angels transferred this house from Galilee to Loreto in 1294.
Visiting the Holy House again in 1894, Dehon records in his diary his previous experience “in 1877 with Bishop Thibaudier, a few months before founding the Congregation.” He makes the connection explicit in a letter to Fr. Falleur, SCJ, writing of his return visit to the Holy House and remarking, “Here the Congregation was born in 1877. May the Congregation rediscover a new life on this day.”
With both visits to the Holy House, Fr. Dehon experienced a profound movement of grace. What inspired him was not so much his presence in the actual home of Mary, which Dehon truly believed it to be, but rather what this space symbolized. Indeed, Dehon took literally the words, “Here, the Word was made flesh,” but more importantly, he received an insight into how this mystery unfolded.
For Fr. Dehon, the Incarnation involves the meeting of two oblations—the self-offering of the Word, who desires to enter the world; and the self-offering of Mary, in whose body the Word takes flesh. Regarding the Oblates of the Heart of Jesus, the original name of the Congregation which he founded, Dehon writes in the Spiritual Directory, “Our whole vocation, our purpose, our duties, our promises are found in these words, “Behold, I come to do your will,” and “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.”
Elaborating, Dehon spells out the consequences of this spirituality of oblation. “In all circumstances, in all happenings for the future and for the present, the Ecce venio suffices, provided it is in the mind and heart at the same time that it is on the lips. Behold me ready to do, to undertake, to suffer what you wish, and to sacrifice whatever you ask of me. We can be without anxiety; the will of God will make itself known at every moment. But, should darkness and uncertainty fill our mind and heart, let us persevere with patience and love, until it pleases the wisdom and goodness of God to enlighten us again with his light.”
Fr. Dehon’s spirit of oblation was tested multiple times during the first years of the Congregation. When miscommunications caused the Vatican to suppress the Oblates in 1883, Dehon responded, “I cannot entertain, even for an instant, the slightest thought of resistance.” When misinformation moved Bishop Thibaudier in 1889 to insist that the Priests of the Sacred Heart merge with a more established Congregation, Dehon wrote, “I am ready to dissolve it, if that is what our Lord wants.” When unsubstantiated rumors encouraged Bishop Duval in 1893 to strip Fr. Dehon of his authority as rector of St. John’s Institute and as Superior General, Dehon replied, “With the help of his grace, I am ready to do and to suffer whatever Our Lord asks.”
All of this “darkness and uncertainty” accompanied Fr. Dehon on his second visit to the Holy House in 1894, along with an Ecce venio in his mind and heart. As he remembers that the Congregation was born in a spirit of oblation, he prays that faithfulness to this spirit will help “the Congregation rediscover new life on this day.”
For the Priests of the Sacred Heart, who profess to live a life of oblation, it is in the “Holy House” of communal living and ministerial activity, however supportive or disappointing, where “the Word is made flesh” today.
Source: “Incarnation in Dehonian Spirituality,” Oliviero Guiseppe Girardi, SCJ
PHOTO: The interior of the Holy House, Loreto, Italy
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
This image of Our Lady of the Heart of Jesus is a reminder of the mystery of the Incarnation, as Fr. Leo John Dehon understood it. This meeting of the two oblations inspired him to found a Congregation with the spirit of oblation. In his meditation book, Crowns of Love for the Sacred Heart [Volume I, 1st Mystery, 6th Meditation], Dehon reflects upon the exemplary relationship between Jesus and Mary.
“Each beat of the Heart of Jesus, has, so to speak, its echo in the heart of Mary so that the love of these two hearts is one, and has one object, one desire; namely, to give oneself to humankind. Jesus gave himself to his Father and to souls by his act of oblation. He now burns with ardor to begin the redemption, and inflames Mary with his zeal.
“Their two hearts are as one. What love they manifest to us; what a lesson of zeal they teach! Does not the goodness of Jesus and Mary evoke boundless confidence and gratitude? O Jesus with Mary, I give myself to your Heart, to your love; with you I give myself to your Father.”
PHOTO: Statue of Our Lady of the Heart of Jesus at the Missionary College of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Funchal, Portugal
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Imagine a meeting of two oblations—that of Jesus and that of your own. How can you bring to birth the “Word made flesh” today?
“We can be without anxiety; the will of God will make itself known at every moment,” Fr. Dehon teaches. “But, should darkness and uncertainty fill our mind and heart, let us persevere with patience and love, until it pleases the wisdom and goodness of God to enlighten us again with his light.” What is your experience of discerning and following the will of God?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please support with your prayer the Dehonian Family’s efforts to live a spirituality of oblation. You may find helpful the following prayer by Jean-Jacques Olier [1608-1657], slightly adapted.
O Jesus, living in Mary,
come and live in your servants,
in the spirit of your holiness,
in the fullness of your power,
in the perfection of your ways,
in the truth of your virtues,
and in the communion of your mysteries.
May our oblation be one with yours
to the glory of the Father.
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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