October 23, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
A common man said one day, “I love the Sisters as much as I detest the parish priests.” Undoubtedly there is a great deal of ignorance contained in that statement. But also, are not many parish priests regarded with scorn because, confined to their sacristies, they remain unknown? We must win the common people. They are thirsting for justice and ardently seeking, through economic institutions, to better their condition. The priest will win their hearts by teaching them to make use of those instruments of social progress.
Did not our Lord heal bodies, nourish the hungry in the desert, and fill the fishermen’s nets in order to win souls? The Church has always been watchfully concerned about the material interests of people. Her missionaries follow the same example and become physicians, farmers, and I don’t know what else! Leo XIII urges us to go to the aid of people in their undeserved poverty.
We reproach American priests for an over-emphasis on the external life. But if the American priest has not yet bowed as perfectly as the French priest to the discipline of the interior man, does not the French priest in his turn display a disastrous aversion towards the active life?
St. Augustine, whose authority everyone invokes, practiced a very contemplative and retiring life as long as he had no souls in his care. On the contrary, once he had become bishop of Hippo, he belonged to the public and his correspondence shows us that. He was unhappy at seeing himself torn away from the pleasures of contemplation, for which he was suited, but nonetheless he gave himself to unending audiences in which temporal conflicts were submitted to his judgment.
The present social situation is becoming for many a proximate occasion of sin. Is not that the responsibility of the priest to remedy? But in order to fulfill this urgent duty, what means should be used? They fall into three categories: study, action, and prayer. We must have scholars, apostles, and saints.
We must have a special prayer, an ardent prayer, joined with sacrifice, for our crippled Christian societies. We must have apostles, people of action. People no longer come to us so we must go to them. We must become interested in their work, their prosperity, and their recreation. We must take the Christian spirit everywhere.
We must have scholars and we should all be scholars to a limited degree. We must study in order to know; and we must study in order to teach. We must particularly study those social questions which are regarded as new issues and which should have always been studied in the Church. A priest cannot rush into this new apostolate without being prepared through serious study. This social apostolate has an infinite range of activities. Let each person assess his aptitudes and measure his strength in order to proceed only with prudence and in accordance with God’s will.
The Church must be concerned for everyone, but she has particular concern for the small and humble, the poor, and the workers. Let us go to the people in order to offer them the help of justice and charity. People will be the friends of the priest and the Church when the priest makes himself the friend of people.
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, excerpts from “Social Role of the Church and the Priest,” in Christian Social Renewal
Lived and shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
“It is always good to be far from home and from the familiar,” writes Jose Richard, SCJ, “to experience another expression of the Spirit of God working in the world.” Yet this experience is often fraught with difficulties. Tim Gray, SCJ, remembers, “I responded to a request for SCJs to study Spanish. So in September 1984, I stepped out onto the sunny sidewalk outside the Cuernavaca bus station, and realized—oh, my God, I am in a foreign country, I know nobody, I don’t know the language. Giving up the familiar is painful.”
Regarding the problems that immigrants endure, Joe Potocnak, SCJ, suggests that, “we cannot imagine how terrifying that experience is.” We need, however, to try. “It was by taking the bus in South Africa,” he continues, “that I was able to get in touch with people, learn their stories, and in some way, share some of the same experiences that they have.” For David Nagel, SCJ, living and ministering in a migrant camp “opened my eyes to the difficulties immigrants face when they arrive in the USA. It is not an easy adjustment with limited services for them and lots of hurdles to overcome.”
One of the hurdles is racial profiling. “When I grew up in Detroit, born of Canadian parents,” reflects Dick MacDonald, SCJ, “my family went through the Tunnel between Detroit and Windsor and no one seemed anxious or nervous. When I came to South Texas in 1975, I suddenly saw behavior that was so different from the ports of entry in Michigan and Ontario. The “white folks” like myself were waived through the border crossing but the “brown skins,” the Mexican people, were questioned at the airports, in stores, and on the street. And as I came to learn, the majority of the Hispanics living here were born in Texas.”
After 9/11, suspicion reigns at all U.S. borders. Zbigniew Morawiec, SCJ, writes, “Every time I cross the border, I am pulled aside. I feel treated as a potential criminal, a threat to this country. I feel I am not treated as a human being. I experience feelings of powerlessness and a lack of energy and courage to fight.”
Although the prevailing prejudice suggests the contrary, immigrants not only seek a better life but also a chance to contribute their gifts to their adopted country. Vien Nguyen, SCJ, reflects on his experience, saying, “It has been 25 years since I first set foot on American soil. The journey that led me to the United States is incredible. I spent days on a small, fragile fishing boat crossing the South China Sea, lived in refugee camps in the Philippines awaiting approval for asylum in the U.S., and once I made it here, had to adapt to the new culture. I, and other immigrants, want to help build and strengthen our nation just as older generations of immigrants did. And just as the Catholic Church in the U.S. grew through waves of immigration from Europe, I, and other immigrants, want to take part in the evangelization and revitalization of the U.S. Catholic Church as well.”
Canadian Paul Tennyson, SCJ, notes, “Over my years I have listened to recent arrivals to our wonderful country being referred to in less than flattering terms. I was part of that chorus when I was much younger and considerably more uninformed. It’s too convenient to vilify and blame all our social ills on the newest arrivals when the truth is much the opposite.” Fellow Canadian Luc Coursol, SCJ, adds, “With immigrants I have to behave in the same way [as the Good Samaritan]; to leave any judgment, bias, prejudice, or negativity in order to welcome unconditionally, to be a presence, to love, and to be in communion. This requires a slow process of personal conversion, of discernment, to be like Jesus who looks with love on people.”
Mark Peters, the U.S. Province’s Director of Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation echoes Fr. Dehon’s approach to pressing social issues. Regarding the problematic realities of immigration, he states, “letting them engage our hearts is the first and indispensable step in changing those attitudes and policies. Making a moral judgment in light of Scripture, Catholic social teaching, Sacred Heart spirituality, and the Dehonian charism comes next, which is probably the easiest part. Then comes action, both personally, in local communities and corporately. That may be the hardest part, but I believe that when we take the first two steps, action becomes inevitable, and if it’s guided by the Spirit, inevitably successful.
Reflections excerpted from North American Dehonian Story of Immigration
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
In what sense is the present social situation of immigration “becoming for many a proximate occasion of sin?
“With immigrants, I have to behave in the same way as the Good Samaritan…to be like Jesus who looks with love on people.” How does this statement challenge my life?
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer immigrants, whose hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments are based so often on the decisions of others. You may find helpful this Lenten Prayer of Reparation, adapted from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
We thank you, Lord Jesus,
for the love you have shown us.
You brought abundant life to a broken world.
You brought light to those in darkness.
And in the great sign of love,
you allowed your Heart to be pierced,
that all might be one.
And so, Jesus,
as we gaze on your opened Heart,
we offer you our lives.
Send us into the world as you were sent.
May our hands and hearts be yours:
standing with those who are broken or despised,
sharing the fullness of grace we have received,
and showing the love you have given the world.
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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