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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September 1, 2017

Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
Leo Dehon had the financial means to travel and his wanderlust began after his second year of law school when he spent three months in England.  “We boarded the boat in Calais, my first sea trip.  The sea lifts one’s soul to God.  Man feels so small, so dependent in the presence of the immense sky and waters, and in the face of perils against which he has no recourse but in Providence.”  Throughout life, his travels would consistently focus his consciousness on the divine.
A year later, he spent four months touring England, Scotland, and Ireland.  “What great interest a trip such as this offers!  Marvels of nature which raise the soul to the Creator: the lakes of Scotland and Cumberland, the Giant’s Causeway.  Fingal’s Cave is high and deep, like a basilica, lined with blackened prisms and arched like an Arabian mosque in the form of a honeycomb.  Nature here has no reason to be envious of art.  Such marvels speak to the soul better than manmade monuments because they are more directly the work of the Creator.”
After his fourth year of studies, he spent a month traveling through Central and Northern Europe.  “For eight days we traveled through an immense virgin forest [in Sweden].  All Europe must have been like this when Asiatics came here to settle.  The pine trees take on colossal proportions.  ‘Bless the Lord, all that grows in the ground’ [Daniel 3:76].  ‘Bless the Lord, all cedars’ [cf. Psalm 148:9].  How well these forests praise the Lord!  Then we traveled along Lake Stor, skirted the Scandinavian Alps, and finally reached the Dal valley.  Here we saw firs and pines planted in sand and between granite rocks tinged with lichens.  One never tires of this grand wild nature where one can admire the direct work of the Creator.”
After receiving his doctorate in Civil Law, Leo Dehon spent a year traveling throughout the Orient.  “This was the crowning year of my secular studies,” he wrote.  Although his father hoped otherwise, “It was to lead me to the threshold of the seminary.  I was to see nature, ancient civilizations, and finally the two holy cities of Jerusalem and Rome.” 
As he began this adventure, he noted, “I was to visit Switzerland often, but the first visit to this country of the marvels of nature is one that makes the greatest impression.  What an accumulation of contrasts, effects, panoramas: mountains, glaciers, snow, waterfalls, lakes, and valleys.  God made this country like a fantastic garden for Europe.
“Like Syria, Greece is very de-forested.  The hills especially look sad and barren, and this strikes anyone who navigates along the waters of the Levant.  But for those who have traveled in the interior, it becomes evident that Greece still has a flourishing vegetation, and must formerly have been a second promised land.  There are fresh valleys and lovely forests.  The cultivation of olive trees, vineyards, and cotton is most widespread.
“We spent much time contemplating the scenes and countryside where everything was new for us: this beautiful and powerful [Nile] river, the valleys so rich, fruitful, full of memories and dotted with monuments; lovely hills that border on the desert; fields of cotton and sugar cane so artistically irrigated; clusters of palm trees around the villages—all this under a sky perpetually blue and marvelously starry at night in a warm and aromatic atmosphere.  Such is Egypt.  It felt good to meditate here on the glory and power of God.”  Near the Red Sea, Dehon remarked, “The marvels of creation are really inexhaustible.”
When his parents visited him while he studied theology in Rome, he gladly acted as their tour guide.  At Mt. Vesuvius he noted, “Nothing like a volcano to reveal the power of God and our ignorance about the composition of the cosmos and the forces of nature.”

Notes on the History of My Life, Third Period [1859-1864], Fourth Period [1864-1865], and Fifth Period [1868-1871], translated by John Dalbec, SCJ 

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

Reflecting on his visit to the catacombs in Rome, Fr. Dehon writes, “The symbol that recurs most often in every corner and in every chapel is that of the Good Shepherd.  He assumes every pose and has a variety of attributes, but he is always a loving shepherd, a shepherd with a devoted and generous heart.  Place a heart on the chest of this picture of the Good Shepherd and you could not have a better expression of the full mystique of the Sacred Heart” [Daily Notes, January 18, 1891]. 
In this woodcut, Jesus, identified by his shepherd’s staff in the form of a cross, is freeing one of his sheep caught in a thorn bush.  This classical image is inspired by the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd leaves his flock of ninety-nine in search of the one stray [Luke 15:4-6].  The point is, of course, that God values everyone equally.
Perhaps this image can nurture the spiritual practice of the care of creation.  As a reminder to pattern our hearts on the lovingly inclusive Heart of Jesus, this image challenges us to attend to the most vulnerable on the earth—not only the poor who will bear the brunt of climate change, but also the fragile eco-system that cannot sustain unlimited exploitation.  In praise of and thanksgiving to the Creator, let us be good shepherds of the marvels of creation.    

Image: Woodcut by Gérard Schoonebeek, SCJ


Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

What helps you be conscious of the presence of the divine in your life?
In your particular situation, for what marvel of creation can you be a good shepherd?
Today, we may be less “ignorant about the composition of the cosmos and the forces of nature.”  Although the facts of climate change seem compelling, what else is needed to move people’s hearts to embrace the care of creation?


Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

Today, September 1, is the Word Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.  According to Pope Francis, this day “offers to individual believers and to the community a precious opportunity to renew our personal participation in this vocation as custodians of creation, raising to God our thanks for the marvelous works that he has entrusted to our care, invoking his help for the protection of creation and his mercy for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”
You may find helpful this contemporary translation of Psalm 148 by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [1994].

Praise the Lord!
Across the heavens,
from the heights,
all you angels, heavenly beings,
sing praise, sing praise!
Sun and moon, glittering stars,
sing praise, sing praise.
Highest heavens, rain clouds,
sing praise, sing praise.
Praise God’s name,
whose word called you forth
and fixed you in place for ever
by eternal decree.
Let there be praise:
from the depths of the earth,
from creatures of the deep.
Fire and hail, snow and mist,
storms, winds,
mountains, hills,
fruit trees and cedars,
wild beasts and tame
snakes and birds,
princes, judges,
rulers, subjects,
men, women,
old and young,
praise, praise the holy name,
this name beyond all names.
God’s splendor above the earth,
above the heavens,
gives strength to the nation,
glory to the faithful,
a people close to the Lord.
Israel, let there be praise!

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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US Province, Priests of the Sacred Heart 
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