February 20, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
From his seminary days until his death, Fr. Leo John Dehon practiced the spiritual discipline of meditating on the Way of the Cross. Of his second year in the seminary, he wrote, “Jesus crucified was the habitual object of my affections. I made the Stations every day during the evening recreation.”
Forty-six years later he confirmed in his Daily Notes, “I always love voyages and I make a beautiful one every day, in the best of company. I make the Way of the Cross with Jesus, Mary, and John. Oh, what a beautiful voyage! What a beautiful pilgrimage full of emotion, grace, and tears!” Even in his last days, when confined to bed, he prayed the Stations at night.
Yet for Fr. Dehon, the daily pilgrimage was more expansive than the traditional fourteen stations. To “follow our Lord with love and walk joyfully on that royal road of the cross” sensitized Dehon to “the great act of oblation of the Heart of Jesus” begun at the Incarnation.
“Coming into the world, Jesus gave himself entirely to God from the first instant. He pronounced his ‘Behold I come,’ in the womb of Mary. The subsequent life of Jesus was no more than the development and the execution of this first act. ‘I go to Nazareth, to the crib, to exile, to my hidden life, to my public life, to my apostolate, to persecutions, to my agony, to the cross, and to the tomb. Behold, I come’.” Gradually, this fundamental attitude imbued Fr. Dehon’s daily life and encouraged him to identify his own journey with that of Christ.
A former student of the high school that Fr. Dehon founded confirms this in a witness he gave at an alumni reunion. “One Friday, after he had just finished following the Stations of the Cross, as was his custom, Fr. Dehon said, ‘Do you know, my son, which station strikes me the most when I do the Stations of the Cross?’ Without really thinking, I selected one. ‘No, not that one. It is the tenth. Jesus is stripped of his clothing. I have given everything, I have nothing left.’ Nothing left, gentlemen, less than nothing, for he who could have enjoyed a fine fortune and such an important inheritance. He gave himself. He had given all that he had for us and for the cause of [Christian education].”
Indeed, Dehon’s spiritual wisdom comes from reflection on his own experience. “Among the crosses the Sacred Heart of our Redeemer will send, there will at times be sickness. Sickness makes us powerless and really nails us to the cross with the Savior. With other crosses, we may still retain our freedom of action, but an illness not of our choice, with perhaps distasteful remedies, with an inactivity perhaps more distressing than the sickness itself, is a cross Jesus is pleased to give souls who wish to keep faithful company with him, the more so since it rather helps than prevents contemplation and the exercise of suffering love.”
Near the end of his life, Fr. Dehon lists the spiritual, physical, emotional, and financial sufferings he experienced as a Priest of the Sacred Heart under the title, “Way of the Cross.” Among these sufferings was the temporary dissolution of the Congregation in 1883, which he referred to as the “Consummatum est” [“It is finished”]. In his Daily Notes, he claims this event was “a great blessing for us, similar to that of Calvary for the salvation of humankind.”
Through many years of mediating daily on the fourteen stations of the Cross of Jesus and the many stations of the Cross in his own life, Fr. Dehon came to this conclusion: “There are no big or small crosses; there is only very little love or great love. Let us love, and then it will be easy for us to climb the hill of Calvary and heavy crosses will become light.”
Heart of Jesus, Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
“The Church exclaims in a transport of love, Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” In writing this for a meditation on the Passion of Jesus, Fr. Dehon explains, “In fact, it is to this tree of salvation that our Savior nailed our own condemnation, cleansing and transforming it in his blood and love. The cross has become lovable because it is redemptive and a source of graces.” Thus, an early Church tradition depicts a triumphant cross with the marks of the five wounds.
A reddish-purple dominates this image of the cross. Blood and love, flowing from the five wounds, seemingly stains the rough wood of the cross and the area encircling it. “Our Lord sheds his blood from his agony until the thrust of the lance that opens his Heart,” Dehon writes. “This is evidence of his love. There is no love without suffering. It is the price of redemption. Our Lord did not spare even one drop of his blood.”
For Christians, the sight of a cross is so commonplace that it often loses its formidable challenge. This image, however, suggests that we allow ourselves to be stained by the blood and love of Jesus, which for Dehon means, “to be possessed by the folly of the cross.” Although it is the work of a lifetime, he advises, “Let us give ourselves to our Lord entirely; let us give him our whole heart, all our life, all our time; let us give ourselves without reserve.”
Image by Br. Matt Miles, SCJ
Reflection Questions, seeds for personal understanding and growth
What is the best way that you can “follow our Lord with love and walk joyfully on that royal road of the cross”? You might consider mediating on a Scriptural Way of the Cross, which Pope Benedict XVI approved for public use in 2007:
- Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane
- Judas betrays Jesus and facilitates his arrest
- The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus
- Peter denies Jesus
- Pilate judges Jesus
- Soldiers crown Jesus with thorns and scourge him
- Jesus embraces his cross
- Simon helps Jesus carry his cross
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Soldiers crucify Jesus
- Jesus promises the repentant thief a share in his kingdom
- Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other
- Jesus dies on the cross
- Acquaintances lay Jesus’ body in the tomb.
Alternately, you might read and meditate on one of the Passion accounts:
As you unite yourself with “the great act of oblation of the Heart of Jesus” that culminated in his passion and death, what affirmation or challenge do you hear regarding your personal transformation?
Considering your present circumstances, how do you understand these words: “There are no big or small crosses; there is only very little love or great love”?
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers those people whose life circumstances constitute a heavy cross to bear, that they may do their best to carry it with love, and that you will do what you can to lighten their load. The following prayer by Leo John Dehon, SCJ, accompanies the 36th
meditation in his book, The Retreat with the Sacred Heart
the memory of your Passion wounds my heart,
whether I contemplate you in your agony,
in your tears and in the blood you sweat;
or before Pilate, scourged, crowned with thorns, and mocked;
or on the cross, in the ultimate gift of your life.
You wanted to drink the entire cup of suffering;
lead me at least to a basic understanding of the spirit of sacrifice.
Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the Dehonian Associates office is offering one-minute meditations on the significance of the cross. The reflections come from the writings of Fr. Leo John Dehon. There will be 14 total, sent each Wednesday and Sunday during Lent, with a final meditation on Easter. Those who are subscribed to Dehonian Spirituality will also receive the Lenten meditations.
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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