August 25, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Leo Dehon lived at the French seminary of St. Claire in Rome and attended the Pontifical Gregorian University from 1865—1871. The following entries from his diary consider his life as a seminarian to be a spiritual practice.
December 13, 1867 Not to concern myself about the future. To grow in sanctity now through fidelity to my rule and by frequently asking God for the gifts of prudence and wisdom.
December 15, 1867 Holiness consists in union with God and conformity to his will. In the future God will do with me what he wants.
December 18, 1867 I should distrust the devil who, under the appearance of something good, distracts my prayer with thoughts of my future ministry or the vocation to a more perfect state. I should strive toward perfection in my current state.
February 1, 1868 “Who can separate us from Christ?” [Romans 8:35]. May there be nothing that separates us from conformity to the will of God. This is the source of all holiness. God derives more honor and we reap greater benefit from a simple act done in accord with his will than from an extraordinary deed which he did not ask of us.
February 9, 1868 The long-range goal of our current work is the apostolate. God will determine the manner. The immediate goal is the sanctity of each day.
June 3, 1868 The priest is compared to a city built on a hill, to a light raised up on a candlestick. He should be an example for the faithful [I Timothy 4:12]. “Be the good fragrance of Christ” [II Corinthians 2:15]. There is no comparison between our strength and this greatness, but God is with us. We should let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit. For the present, all he asks of us is to be ideal seminarians.
Daily Notes, 1867—1868
Lived and Shared: contemporary expressions of Dehonian spirituality
The SCJ spirituality that is most connected to my role as a teacher of philosophy at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology actually falls under two headings: the first might be called the more “official” SCJ spiritual values rooted in Fr. Dehon’s understanding of devotion to the Sacred Heart. They include reparation and the ideal of unity [Sint unum]. The second heading includes spiritual values I observed as the de facto common patrimony of the community. I have in mind the SCJ commitment to education and the intellectual life, and the SCJ tradition of hospitality.
The spiritual, indeed moral value of reparation is the task of “fixing” something broken in human hearts and human society. In human hearts, it is indifference. In human society, it is injustice. Philosophy has something to contribute to both “fixes.”
To maddening indifference, it offers wonder. Indeed, sometimes “maddening” wonder. Philosophers can seem to be a pack of annoying intellectual fussbudgets with all their distinctions and careful definitions. But behind it all is a fascination and respect for the endless complexity of being. Do such rarified intellectual reflections always lead to the grateful savoring of the lavish gifts of God? Not necessarily. But I believe they can, and often do.
To injustice, philosophy has not brought a fix, but rather thinking necessary to any fix. We must know what justice is to work for it. Philosophers have contributed in various ways to our understanding of justice and the special challenges it faces in our technological age.
Marx, for example, while not particularly good at solutions, has provided prophetic insight into these challenges. Philosophers such as Plato have pointed to the complex relationship between law and justice. They are not always the same thing. We need only think of the current issue of immigration. As the Latin maxim Fr. John O’Connor, SCJ, used to quote to me goes: “Maximum jus maxima injuria”, which, in much less elegant English is rendered: “The most precise application of the law is the greatest injustice.”
Fr. Jim Brackin, SCJ, once compared the seminary prayer community to a Luby’s restaurant in Texas where simply everybody in town showed up—you just had to be there. Philosophy is the Luby’s of the intellectual world. And while the cacophony of ideas thus generated is not exactly the unity Christ desired, sitting in philosophy’s vast hall can open minds to voices bearing messages of the Spirit not previously heard.
Sint unum [“That they may be one”], I do not believe means, “Let them be the same.” And while we must avoid the peril, exemplified in current news, of assigning equal value to every message, truth, while “one,” is a vast and complex thing. The noisy hall of philosophy allows our students to be exposed to some of that complexity. And unity—community—will be stronger and more encompassing for an appreciation of that complexity.
An oft-repeated line of Fr. Michael Noonan, SCJ, my novice master, and, of course later Provincial, was “Fratres, don’t park your brains!” Fr. Dehon, the owner of three doctorates, greatly valued the intellectual life as integral to the spiritual life. I believe that philosophy, though certainly not the only path of the mind to God, is an irreplaceable piece of the reflection and discernment that is a part of our ascent to the divine. A line spoken by Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons runs roughly, “The plants serve God in their simplicity, and animals in their innocence, but man in the tangles of his mind.”
The most oft-repeated comment I hear from visitors to Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology is how hospitably they were received. I have found this spirit of welcome to be a hallmark of every SCJ community of which I have been a part [including the lovely community in Freiburg, Germany]. I have thus come to regard hospitality as a part of the SCJ charism—whether by way of original intention, or simply a blessed tradition arising through time.
I have always felt that it was incumbent upon all of us who teach at Sacred Heart to exhibit hospitality not only in the light of this SCJ tradition, but also especially given the mission of our seminary, to serve such a diverse student body. Also, it is especially appropriate in philosophy courses to encourage students to model a certain “hospitality” of ideas to one another, consisting not in a relinquishing of the duties of honesty and critical thinking, but rather in an openness to listening.
John Gallam, Professor of Philosophy at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, an apostolate of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
Complete the following sentence: “For the present, all that God asks of me is ____________________.”
“God derives more honor and we reap greater benefit from a simple act done in accord with his will than from an extraordinary deed which he did not ask of us.” How might this wisdom affect your daily living?
“The most precise application of the law is the greatest injustice.” How does this maxim apply to the current immigration debate?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer those who are preparing for the ministry of priesthood, particularly the seminarians at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. You may find helpful the following prayer written by Leo Dehon, the seminarian, on December 23, 1869.
the desire I have for my own holiness
and that of my friends,
even the desire that the saints have
for the holiness of the world,
all these are nothing in comparison
with the ardent longing of your Heart
to make us holy.
Through your almighty power, Lord,
give my heart the right dispositions
so that it will be able to welcome
the graces that you bring to it.
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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