February 17, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Our beloved pontiff, Leo XIII, has set forth for us in various encyclicals the Church’s teaching on the true concept of the Christian state, on relationships between Church and State, and on the moral laws of economic life. We recall that encyclical of 1881 on civil power, that of 1885 on the Christian constitution of states, that of 1888 on liberty, that of 1890 on the civic duties of Christians, and that of 1891 on the condition of workers.
Our century is a time of unusual political and social agitation. The Church has had to devote all of her concern to guiding us through this labyrinth of diverse, contradictory, audacious, and often perilous opinions. The [First] Vatican Council hoped to do this. It had a plan for a constitution on Church-State relations. At the request of a large number of bishops, it also had to deal with the social and economic issue. We know what happened. The council was interrupted by the [Franco-Prussian] war.
What the Council was not able to do for the good of the Church, the Sovereign Pontiff had to do. The Church had an urgent need for positive teaching on the moral conditions of political
and economic life, and Leo XIII gave us such teachings in his encyclicals.
It is thus not because of personal liking for these issues or for any other human reason that Leo XIII spoke; but it was to fulfill the duty of his office, to continue the work of the Vatican Council; it was in order to add to the magnificent content of Christian education, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the pages which the needs of our time demand. And in this respect, he has been the instrument of the merciful design of Providence.
Leo XIII spoke, in his encyclicals, as the supreme teacher of the Church. He did not give his words the solemn character of dogmatic definitions; he did not formulate sentences of reprobation. His teachings are no less authoritative or serious because of that, and a Catholic would be rash indeed to cast doubt on them.
Moved by compassion for our poor France, which he saw rushing towards her downfall because of the divisions among respectable people and the growth of disbelief and immorality, he wanted to do himself what we were not able to do: to apply the general principles to our particular situation and delineate the duties which are consequently incumbent upon us.
He told us what our attitude should be vis-à-vis the existing government. For de facto governments, there is a time during which we must tolerate them. There is a period during which we must accept them and another period during which they become legitimate. Those major questions are difficult to resolve for those who are in the midst of the conflict, and who usually bring some measure of emotion to the issues. That is indeed one of the major matters of conscience, in which the Pope’s involvement is useful, even necessary, when spirits are troubled and uncertain.
The Pope was a long way from having the obedience of all French Catholics to which he was entitled. “There are people,” he said, “belonging to various political parties, and even sincerely Catholic, who have not precisely taken our words into account.”
“Preface,” Pontifical Instructions: Political and Social, 1897
Oblation: the daily practice of offering oneself to God's will
Fr. Dehon’s defense of Pope Leo XIII and his teachings, particularly regarding the political turmoil in France, which was still smarting from the French Revolution, and the social issues raised by the Industrial Revolution, reveal the tenacity of the human condition. Over a hundred years have gone by and still there are “divisions among respectable people,” who “in the midst of conflict usually bring some measure of emotion to the issues.” These divisions result in a “labyrinth of diverse, contradictory, audacious, and often perilous opinions.”
“When spirits are troubled and uncertain,” Dehon wisely notes, “major questions are difficult to resolve.” Pope Leo lamented that sincere Catholics, who belong to various political parties, do not take the time to consider the vast store of wisdom and experience that can be found in the teachings of the Church.
Making a daily offering of oneself to God is an act grounded in the circumstances of life. If there are divisions among respectable people, the challenge is to search for commonalities. If conflict is clouded by overwrought emotions, the task is to bring reason and emotion into a mutual partnership. When spirits are troubled and uncertain, the call is to take the time needed to become better informed.
A life of oblation, above all, is an expression of love. In their Rule of Life, the Priests of the Sacred Heart profess that “Charity must be an active hope for what others can become with the help of our fraternal support. The mark of its genuineness will be the simple way with which all strive to understand what each one has at heart” [#64].
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
What is your experience of the divisions among respectable people, particularly among sincere Catholics who belong to various political parties?
How do you understand the statement that “Making a daily offering of oneself to God is an act grounded in the circumstances of life?
In what one, specific way is your life of oblation an expression of love?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
February 20, 1878, was the election of Leo XIII, a Pope who strongly influenced Fr. Leo John Dehon’s Christian social involvement. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the leadership of Pope Francis, and all who strive to care for creation and build a peaceful and just world. You may find helpful the following Prayer of Reparation, adapted from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
how can we repay your goodness to us?
we receive the bread of unity
and the cup of reconciliation.
we receive the love
which flows unceasingly from your heart.
Jesus, we call upon your name:
loosen our bonds,
our ingratitude, and failures,
and created in us open hearts
to serve your message of love.
you have made the world your home.
As members of your household,
we ask for the courage to join our hearts with yours,
so that everything dividing the human family
might give way to God’s peace and tender mercy.
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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