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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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April 22, 2016
Earth Day
 
 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
“Beauty!” Fr. Dehon exclaims as he begins his annual lecture at St. John Institute’s awards ceremony.  “What reason can there be for keeping it away from the soul of youth?  Were they not made for each other?  Who can appreciate beauty better than young people can?  Their soul thirsts for it.
 
“If I were a geography teacher, I would tell young people, ‘Do you see this globe which is like the garden of humankind?  It has been adorned by a great artist and his students.  The artist is God; his students are the people—the artists of Earth.  God, the great artist, sowed the wonders of his great art across this globe—the great sea which reflects the blue sky, the austere or delightful lakes, the snowy mountains, the dark forests, the volcanoes which rumble, the rivers which rush, the serene valleys, the mysterious grottoes.  Then his disciples, the artists of Earth, built those cathedrals and palaces, embellished those museums, erected those bridges, towers, and turrets, and aligned those cloisters and columns.’”
 
Because “Contact with beauty beautifies the soul; and imposing sights elevate it,” Fr. Dehon encourages his students to travel, if only through their imagination and with the help of a good book.  For the moment, however, he enthralls his young listeners with word pictures, based mostly on his own travels. 
 
In Scandinavia’s vast, green forests, “great pines seek air and sun at prodigious heights; below a tangled mass of century-old trunks, bent down or felled, and veiled with green moss.”  Germany boasts of the Black Forest “with its dark stands of fir.”  The blue waters of the Bosporus are “edged with palaces amidst terebinth trees, plane trees, and cypress.”
 
Refusing to limit himself to his own extensive travels, Fr. Dehon continues, “I imagine the virgin woods of the warm countries, the dense, tropical rain forests of Brazil or Tasmania, the infinite forests, arches of foliage enlivened by birdsong, the tropical vines which are the ropes, the trapeze, the rings and swings of that merry family of monkeys into which one is born with the passion of the gymnasium.
 
“Climates have an infinite variety: in the north, the endless hoar-frost, the great architectural forests, the pine whose needles bend beneath the winter snows.  Southward from that lie the prairies, always verdant, the wheat which turns yellow, the oak, young elm, chestnut, whose leaves—like a rich tapestry, adorned with the most vivid colors by the autumn sun—become a plaything of the winds in winter.  Then comes the earthly garden: the vineyards, the olive, orange, and palm trees.  Finally, the countries of the sun, in which there is abundant life in the prodigious forests.”
 
Bringing his young listeners back to western Europe, Dehon asks with exuberant pride, “Is there not also a privileged region; a land bathed by several seas; a land fertile with wheat and wine; a land admirably varied, which has at once the oak, the pine, the olive tree, and orange tree; a land which combines the vigor of the North with the gentleness of the South?”  Of course, the answer is his dear, native country of France.
 
Lecture at St. John Institute’s Award Ceremony: On the Study of Geography, July 31, 1886
 

 
  
 
 

Oblation: the daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
 
“Trees for the Earth” is the 2016 theme for Earth Day.  This focus highlights the value of trees, which remove carbon dioxide from the air, prevent soil erosion, purify water, and add to the world’s beauty.  Trees also help communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability, especially in the poorest communities around the world.  What might this focus have to do with the spirit of oblation?  
 
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes, “[Our] sister, [Mother Earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her [#1].  The Earth’s resources are being plundered because of shortsighted approaches to the economy, commerce, and production.  The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses [#32].”   
 
As with other global issues, the Priests of the Sacred Heart recognize, in their Rule of Life, that even though they are “entangled in sin,” they also participate in redemptive grace [#22] and pledge to do their utmost to avoid every form of social injustice [#51]
 
In terms of ecology, Pope Francis insists, “this necessarily entails reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production, and consumption [#138].”  As complex as the situation is, Pope Francis speaks an uncomfortable truth.  “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings, above all, who need to change [#202].  We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other.  If we can overcome individu­alism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society [#208].”
 
In their Rule, the Priests of the Sacred Heart have already accepted this challenge.  Gospel poverty, they state, “demands that together we seek a simple and modest lifestyle [#49].  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 [#38].”
 
As stewards of Earth’s environment and as servants of just relationships among Earth’s peoples, the Priests of the Sacred Heart “want to be in union with Christ, present in the life of the world.” Thus, they say, “in solidarity with Him, and with all of humanity and creation, we want to offer ourselves to the Father, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable [#22].”
 
 
 
 
 
 
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

On Earth Day, and throughout the year, how can you be conscious and proactive regarding care for the Earth?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Take a walk in a natural landscape and soak in the beauty of God’s creation.
  • Join Earth Day Network, www.earthday.org, in its effort to plant more trees.  Plant a tree or donate to The Canopy Project.
  • Sign the St. Francis Pledge to help care for our planet and our vulnerable sisters and brothers at www.catholicclimatecovenant.org.
 
 
 
 
 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

April 22, 2016 is Earth Day.  In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all those who work for the sustainability of Earth’s environment.  You may find helpful the following prayer by St. Basil of Caesarea, who lived from 329 to 379.
 
O God,
grant us a deeper sense of fellowship
with all living things,
our little brothers and sisters,
to whom in common with us
you have given this Earth as home.
 
We recall with regret that in the past
we have acted high-handedly and cruelly
in exercising our domain over them.
Thus, the voice of the Earth
which should have risen to you in song
has turned into a groan of travail.
 
May we realize that all these creatures
also live for themselves and for you,
not for us alone.
They too love the goodness of life—as we do—
and serve you better in their way
than we do in ours.
Amen.
 
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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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