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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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December 2, 2016
 
 
 
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 
 
Rome was busy making preparations for the [First Vatican] Council.  Theologians from all nations had been called to the Eternal City to prepare the decrees. 
 
A priest from Turin was charged with the training of a corps of stenographers for the Council.  Seminarians from various nations, who were studying in Rome, were chosen so that the Council would have a secretariat accustomed to all pronunciations.  I was among them.  From the USA were Theodore Metcalf and Peter Geyer.  Every day, we had one hour of exercises in short hand.  We were soon able to master this new art.  I made friends among the group and we had pleasant relationships.
 
In the midst of all these preparations and concerns, the Holy Father graciously granted an audience to the stenographers before the Council began, to bless and encourage them.  It was November 30, feast of the apostle St. Andrew.  The following day, the stenographers met in the private chapel of Bishop Fessler, Secretary General of the Council.  There we read the profession of faith and took the oath to be faithful to our mission and observe secrecy. 
 
What a beautiful day [December 8, 1869]!  What a moving spectacle!  Surrounding the Vicar of Jesus Christ, supreme head of the Church, were all the successors of the apostles, all the pastors of dioceses united together to give witness to the teachings of the Gospel.
 
Our system of stenography was quite intricate.  It was based on spelling, not sounds.  We wrote standing in front of the rostrum in teams of two and alternated every five minutes.  You wrote a line and then whispered to your neighbor the word at which he was to take over.  Occasionally the speaker would hear us, and once Bishop Strossmayer lost his patience, interrupted his discourse, and said to us, “Be silent!”  We wrote only consonants; hence the result was like a Chinese puzzle, trying to reconstruct words and phrases.  The system was by no means efficient and did not give the best results, despite intelligent and devoted instruments.
 
It took us from two to three minutes to transcribe our stenographic scribbles into longhand.  We did it together in a hurry, and then returned to the assembly hall to listen to the speeches and wait for another turn at recording.  Behind the rostrum we had a large desk for our own use.  Bishops often came to ask us what had been said when they had not been able to hear or follow well enough.
 
After [daily] Mass, the Council’s work began, lasting from nine-thirty until twelve.  As each session came to a close, we required half an hour to write out everything.  Then we went home under the warm sun.  During the afternoon we attended our usual lectures.
 
For eight months I saw 900 prelates at close range, and every day I was impressed by their dignity, knowledge, and virtue.  There is nothing on earth like these Council meetings.  No one would expect all the Council Fathers to be brilliant personalities; yet many of them were outstanding men who had been well prepared for their high functions by knowledge, apostolic work, and the direction of dioceses. 
 
The United States of America also had eminent prelates: Archbishops MacCloskey of New York, Spalding of Baltimore, and Kenrick of St. Louis.  Bishop Gibbons, vicar-apostolic of South Carolina, was a young prelate hardly known.  Later on, he became Archbishop of Baltimore.
 
Excerpts from Dehon’s Diary of Vatican Council I, 1869-1879
Photo of four stenographers at Vatican Council I.  Fr. Dehon is second from the left in the photo.
 

 
  
 
 

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

Ordained for little over a year, Fr. Dehon was naturally impressed with the idea and ceremony of an ecumenical council.  As a stenographer, however, he was able to witness much more, not all of it exhilarating.
 
”The [First Vatican] Council was supposed to work in peace and unity,” he wrote in his diary, “but such was not the case.  Actually, there was an ardent conflict within the Council and outside of it.  The conflict was centered on papal infallibility, with the tendency to break the bonds between the episcopate and the Holy See, between civil societies and the Church.  The Council had no sooner begun when the parties took form.”
 
Other observations of the Council have a contemporary feel.  “Some Fathers strongly opposed the schemas prepared by Vatican theologians.”  He noted Bishops who called for reforms of the Curia, the cardinalate, and the Breviary, and one who said, “there is a general conspiracy against civil and church authority; we have to do something about this, otherwise it will continue to expand.”
 
Regarding the pressing issue of slavery in America, “Bishop Verot of Savannah requested that when speaking of the human race we affirm the equality of blacks and whites.”  At which, Dehon cryptically records, “The Council smiled.”  An old missionary, “Bishop Charbonnel, criticized vehemently those bishops who sought honors.  He knew what he was talking about since he had seen many of these sad attempts at ambition.”
 
When the humanity of the Church was all too apparent, Fr. Dehon was not discouraged.  Many years later, when reflecting on the Eucharist, he expressed the reason for his hope.  “Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Vigilant Sentinel standing guard over his Church.”  While it is possible to dismiss this thought as sentimental piety or wishful thinking, it speaks to the ever-present paradox of the Paschal Mystery, reflected in this image of the Lamb of God.
 
Blood flowing from the pierced side of the Lamb into a chalice represents Christ’s passion, while the unfurled banner suggests the resurrection and the victory of Christ’s sacrifice.  The identifying monogram just below the Lamb of God consists of the first two Greek letters for the name, “Christ,” and being enveloped by a circle, points to his eternal existence.
 
Death and life, pain and joy, struggle and victory, conflict and harmony are not so much opposites as inseparable companions.  Jesus is the archetype of those who attempt to hold this human tension, and his Heart loves them into embracing whatever side of the paradox comes their way each day. 
 
The Church is at once a glorious symbol of the Reign of God and a discouraging reminder that it is only an imperfect symbol.  Yet in faith, we can say with Fr. Dehon, “The Sacred Heart does not sleep because he is all love.  Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Vigilant Sentinel standing guard over his Church.”
 
Excerpts from Dehon’s Diary of Vatican Council I, 1869-1879
The Priestly Heart of Jesus, 31st Meditation
Image: Stained glass window in SCJ community chapel, Chamberlain, SD       

 

 
  
 
 

Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

While Fr. Dehon relished the moving spectacle of the First Vatican Council, he also noted the conflict, and possible racism and ambition of some of its participants.  In what manner do you acknowledge the humanity of the Church?
 
Death and life, pain and joy, struggle and victory, conflict and harmony are not so much opposites as inseparable companions.  Jesus is the archetype of those who attempt to hold this human tension, and his Heart loves us into embracing whatever side of the paradox comes our way each day.  How do you respond to this statement?
 
What do you think Fr. Dehon means when he says that, “Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Vigilant Sentinel standing guard over his Church”?

 
 
 
 

Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve

In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the followers of Christ, in all their humanity, who are the Church.  You may find helpful this prayer, “Before Any Meeting,” attributed to St. Isidore of Seville [560-636].
 
We stand before you, Holy Spirit,
conscious of our sinfulness,
but aware that we gather in your name.
 
Come to us, remain with us,
and enlighten our hearts.
 
Give us light and strength
to know your will,
to make it our own,
and to live it in our lives.
 
Guide us by your wisdom,
support us by your power,
for you are God,
sharing the glory of Father and Son.
 
You desire justice for all:
enable us to uphold the rights of others;
do not allow us to be misled by ignorance
or corrupted by fear or favor.
 
Unite us to yourself in the bond of love
and keep us faithful to all that is true.
 
As we gather in your name
may we temper justice with love,
so that all our decisions
may be pleasing to you
and earn the reward
promised to good and faithful servants.
 
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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