December 16, 2016
Please note that this is the last issue of Dehonian Spirituality for 2016. The next issue will be published on January 6, 2017. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
From the early days of his priesthood, Fr. Dehon was continually concerned about the formation of the French clergy, above all in his diocese. Later, with the foundation of the Oblates of the Heart of Jesus, he formed the first religious of the Congregation.
From then on as Superior General, until the end of his life, he never neglected this concern, which was always dear to his heart. And one of the pastoral priorities proposed by Fr. Dehon for his Congregation was precisely that of the formation of priests and religious.
This was one of the aspects of the mission of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Fr. Dehon was among those people who understood that the success of evangelization and the Church’s activity depended on the quality of its pastors.
In Fr. Dehon’s time the Church of France was going through a deep crisis. For Fr. Dehon, the fundamental point was that the French clergy was not up to responding to the new challenges set by the ideals of the Revolution, by industrial development, and by a new cultural attitude. Fr. Dehon asked, “But in this lamentable situation, does not the clergy share part of the responsibility? We are losing the true notion of our duties.”
The ministry based on prayer and on the administration of the sacraments—the spiritual apostolate as Fr. Dehon called it—was important, but it was not enough. The world of that time demanded a new type of clergy, more open to social problems and closer to the people. Fr. Dehon made the cry of Leo XIII reecho in his diocese, “It is necessary to come out of the sacristies.”
These new times had need of scholars, apostles, and saints; they needed study, action, and prayer. They needed a new model of priest. The challenge, according to Fr. Dehon, would lie in the formation of priests. “They must be prepared, be formed. It is necessary for the priest to dedicate himself to new studies and new works.”
Extract from “Fr. Dehon and Formation,” José Zeferino Policarpo Ferreira, SCJ, Dehoniana 2004/3
Oblation: The daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
On the tenth anniversary of its founding, the Congregation [of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus] received its initial approval from Rome, along with a personal request from Pope Leo XIII: “Preach my encyclicals and go to the foreign missions.” The Pope’s plea sparked a new wave of apostolic commitments. Missionaries were sent to Ecuador. In ten years, a total of eighteen went, and when they were expelled for political reasons, a year later missions were begun in the Belgian Congo. Fr. Dehon launched a monthly magazine, The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Souls and in Societies, which mixed articles on personal piety with Catholic analysis and commentary on the social issues of the day.
During the 1890s, he was one of the leaders of the Abbés Democrates, priests who organized congresses for other priests to form and motivate them according to the principles of Catholic social teachings. He was also invited to give a series of nine public lectures in Rome which were attended by seminarians, priests, and bishops, and were followed closely by the Pope.
In one of these lectures he sketched an outline for a new kind of priestly ministry, based on a new model of the ideal priest. His inspiration for this undertaking was Leo XIII’s impassioned call to the clergy: “Go to the people.” To fulfill this urgent duty, Dehon said three things are needed: study, prayer, and action. Priests must be scholars, saints, and apostles.
This is his adaptation of the threefold office of prophet, priest, and pastor, and you have probably noticed, this is also the organizing principle of the curriculum here at Sacred Heart School of Theology: academic studies, spiritual formation, and pastoral education. To continue paraphrasing his words, he said we must have ardent prayer because our Christian societies are crippled. We must have apostles who are men of action. The people no longer come to us, so we must go to them.
We must help them organize. We must become interested in their work, their well-being, and their leisure time. We must have scholars and we should all be scholars to some degree. We must study in order to know; and we must study in order to teach. In particular we must study those social questions which raise new issues. We must have at our disposal journals and up-to-date books which deal with these questions. A priest cannot rush into this new apostolate without being prepared through serious study.
What Fr. Dehon discovered is that single-minded filial devotion to God, which is the essence of priesthood, does not make us unmindful of this world and its problems. He said that passion for the divine is what inspires missionaries, scholars, and pastors in their zealous works, and the priestly Heart of Jesus is their model.
Excerpt from “Leo Dehon and the Charism of Priesthood,” Paul J. McGuire, SCJ, Leo Dehon Lecture, Sacred Heart School of Theology, February 25, 2003.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What issue(s) in the Church and/or world pique your interest? What steps can you take to learn about this?
Contemplating God’s Word in conjunction with this issue, what do you want to say to God and what do you hear God telling you?
Acknowledging your talents and personal circumstances, what step can you take to address the need of which you are aware?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
On December 19, 1868, Leo Dehon was ordained a priest in Rome. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all those preparing for a life of service as ordained ministers, particularly at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, a national seminary in Hales Corners, WI, sponsored by the Priests of the Sacred Heart. You may find helpful the following prayer.
Heart of Jesus,
continue to transform my heart
into the image of your own.
Fill my heart with passion
for you and for creation.
With gifts of wonder and inquisitiveness,
may I notice what is needed and seek solutions.
With the experience of your intimacy and love,
may I embrace my worth and talents.
With gifts of zeal and collaboration,
may I work for your reign on Earth.
In my efforts to be one with you,
help me draw many others to your Heart.
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? Click here.
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