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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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August 14, 2015


 
 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
Faithfully fulfilling Pope Leo XIII’s personal request to “preach my [social] encyclicals,” Fr. Leo John Dehon spoke and wrote tirelessly in his efforts to teach people the direct connection between the practice of Catholicism and the demands of justice.
 
“Undoubtedly, ‘there will always be poor people’,” Fr. Dehon explains in The Lamentable Condition of Contemporary Society, the second chapter in a manual that he wrote to assist Catholics involved in social justice advocacy.  “Organized welfare and spontaneous charity exist to ameliorate the situation of individuals who are unable to work.  But, in the midst of a brilliant civilization, the existence of entire classes who habitually lack the necessary means of subsistence is a situation which goes against nature.  One of the purposes of society is precisely to assist members of the human family, through good social organization, to escape from the grip of misery.  The earth is rich enough to sustain us all and even to allow us to live in modest comfort.  No sensible person can believe that the poverty of the majority is a law of nature.”
 
The problem, as Dehon saw it, was the economic system.  In a lecture entitled, The Present Social and Economic Crisis in France and in Europe, he writes, “False social economics is also called economic liberalism.  It involves making wealth the goal of humankind and life a merciless struggle.  It treats the worker as an instrument of production; it weighs his wages in the course of the day in accordance with the law of supply and demand.  That is a doctrine which degrades humanity and makes society an arena in which the strong crush the weak…The development of big industry has taken place without regulation or counterweight.  Anonymous capital controls the workers and keeps them in an almost servile condition.”
 
“Religion is not the enemy of progress,” Dehon insists in a lecture entitled, The True Causes and Remedies of the Contemporary Malaise.  “It teaches the very conditions of progress: work, thrift, justice, charity.  What progress can there be without work?  What social happiness can there be without the practice of justice and charity?” 
 
In a newspaper article, he reminds Christians of the demands of faith.  “We are sons of Christ, the sons of the One who loves you all and who did not come solely to assure you of the joys of the other life, but also to obtain for you, to the extent possible, a certain degree of ease in the present life.  We are sons of the One who distributed the bread of souls, but also the material bread on the mountain of the Beatitudes…The reform of society requires multiple and persistent efforts.  More than one instrument is necessary: prayer, study, action.  You who remain apathetic and unconcerned and who have not yet taken part in even one small work, stand in fear of the day of reckoning before the friend of the poor.  We are not exempted from acting because the evil is great and our capabilities limited.”
 
Thus, Fr. Dehon concludes, “We must act.  The evil is immense and the remedy is in our hands.  Let us study; let us disseminate the truth; let us organize ourselves.  Today, social power is in the people’s hands.  It is to them that we must reach out…Leo XIII tells us to go to the people, because the people have become aware of their strength and the fact that their future lies in that strength.
 
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Christian Social Manual [1894], Chapter Two; Christian Social Renewal [1900], First and Second Lectures; and The Southeast Chronicle [January 1897] 
 
 
 

 
 

Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality

Last month, the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements met in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Speaking to this gathering, Pope Francis emphasized the sacred rights of all people, critiqued the skewed economic system, called for needed change, and reminded Christians of their obligation to work for that change.  The following excerpts from his address have striking parallels to Fr. Dehon’s social writings of over 100 years ago. 
 
“The Bible tells us that God hears the cry of his people, and I wish to join my voice to yours in calling for land, lodging, and labor for all our brothers and sisters.  I said it and I repeat it: these are sacred rights.  It is important; it is well worth fighting for them.  May the cry of the excluded be heard in Latin America and throughout the world.
 
“So let’s not be afraid to say it: we need change; we want change.  Positive change, a change which is good for us, a change—we can say—which is redemptive.  Many people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns.
 
“An unfettered pursuit of money rules.  The service of the common good is left behind.  Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another, and as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.
 
“The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples.  The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home.  A just economy must create the conditions for everyone to be able to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights during their active years, and to enjoy a dignified retirement as they grow older.
 
“It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.  You, and other peoples as well, sum up this desire in a simple and beautiful expression: to live well.  Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy.  It is a moral obligation.  For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.  It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right.
 
“Commitment, true commitment, is born of the love of men and women, of children and the elderly, of peoples and communities—of names and faces which fill our hearts.  From those seeds of hope patiently sown in the forgotten fringes of our planet, from those seedlings of a tenderness which struggles to grow amid the shadows of exclusion, great trees will spring up, great groves of hope to give oxygen to our world.  The Church cannot and must not remain aloof from this process in her proclamation of the Gospel.”
 
Pope Francis, excerpts from his address to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, July 9, 2015

 

 


 
Reflection questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

How do you explain the connection between the practice of Christianity and the demands of justice?
 
How do you understand Pope Francis’ concept of a “just economy”?
 
Fr. Dehon claimed, “We are not exempted from acting because the evil is great and our capabilities limited.”  In what “one small work” of social justice can you take part?



 

 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all those who work, to whatever degree, for social justice.  You may find helpful this Prayer of Reparation, adapted from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
 
Lord Jesus,
you open your Heart to everyone.
You make God’s abundant love visible
by welcoming the poor,
by inviting sinners to the feast of reconciliation,
and by showing the rich
that God’s reign is worth all they have.
 
Today, Lord,
we hear the invitation to follow you.
In grateful love,
we offer you our resources and our lives.
We ask for the courage to live simply
and to abandon anything
that hinders the good news of reconciliation.
 
Help us today
to hear the cry of the poor,
to share what we have,
and to love without asking for return.
In service to the gospel,
may our lives become an offering of reparation to God.
 
Amen.
 


 
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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