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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October 5, 2018

Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart 

The prayer of affection is the name that Fr. Dehon used to describe a method of mental prayer that became dominant throughout his life.  One of the characteristics of the prayer of affection is meditation on the mysteries of Christ’s life as they are revealed to us in the scriptures.  Its underlying premise is that if you want to be more like Christ, then you must first reflect and meditate on his life and his attitudes to see—and feel—what he is like.
The prayer of affection begins with a reflection on a concrete instance in the life of Jesus.  Fr. Dehon often spoke of looking at or gazing at the scene.  He used the image of the artist’s canvas: we should be like a blank canvas as the Lord stands before us and imprints his wisdom and his attitudes, his mind and his heart on us.  He said, “In order to visualize the presence of God, I liked to see my inner self opened as in broad daylight before the eyes of God.”  The first movement in the prayer of affection is from God to us.  This is typical of all the instances of divine communication in the Bible.
So, the first stage of this kind of prayer consists in slow reading and rereading of the scripture passage, mulling over it attentively, listening to what it has to say to us.  Fr. Dehon said, “Nourish yourself on Holy Scripture.  Be supple, docile, obedient in the hands of God. Let yourself be led to our Lord by the will rather than by the intellect.”  He said that the sentiments which animated Jesus during his life ought to be the same ones that move and inspire us.  And it is in prayer above all that we ought to study them.  We ought to probe his sentiments and thoughts, we ought to sound out his desires and his will, his joys and sorrows, in order to conform our thoughts, words, and actions completely to his.
After the gospel scene begins to speak to us and draws our attention to what Jesus is saying or how he is acting, then the second phase of the prayer begins.  The words and actions of Jesus call for a response on our part.  This kind of prayer is a meditation enhanced by feelings or affections, where the will and love tend to take the place of the workings of the intellect.
Fr. Dehon told the novices, “Above all we must insist on the affections at the end of the meditation.  The heart plays its role here, and with us the heart ought to be predominant because we are dedicated to imitate the Heart of Jesus. In this state, the soul is quickly responsive to a movement of affection which turns it toward our Lord.  This movement comes from grace and is a movement of joy or sadness which results from meditating on the mysteries.  It is always a movement of love.”
The point of these affections is not simply to experience warm and loving feelings, or to have a good cry.  The Lord “appreciates this affection for the effects it produces, much more than for the lively sentiment it inspires.  The affection of the heart that the Lord asks for “leads to action and to generosity.  One must guard against the appearance of sentiments by which some people deceive themselves.  One should not attach importance to a certain fervor which is no more durable that a bit of straw and produces nothing lasting.  The sign by which one recognizes the value of true sentiment is the good works which it inspires.  I ask for an affection which inspires action, an action sustained by affection.  Such should be the character of the faithful and of the religious consecrated to Christ’s Heart.”

Excerpts from the presentation, “How Father Dehon Prayed,” Paul J. McGuire, SCJ 


Heart: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
In this image of the Heart of Jesus, it appears as if Jesus is in a state of contemplation.  His eyes are cast downward.  Although his gaze is not engaging the viewer, his hand gestures certainly are.
Many popular images have Jesus pointing to his Heart.  In this depiction, however, Jesus places his hand over his Heart.  It’s a natural gesture that people use to emphasize a touching experience, the veracity of a statement, or the sincerity of one’s intentions.  Here, hand over heart serves to reinforce the traditional iconography of the Sacred Heart.  Flames signify the intensity of Jesus’ love, and the cross is a reminder of the lengths to which Jesus goes to prove his love.
Jesus’ left hand opens toward the viewer in a gesture of invitation.  “Come,” Jesus says, “and ponder the affections of my Heart.”  An open hand signifies sharing.  Jesus wishes that his sentiments will become the viewer’s own.  An open hand also indicates an offering.  United with the Heart of Jesus, the viewer can make an oblation of loving deeds, inspired and sustained by affection.
The hand gestures of this image of the Heart of Jesus summarize the prayer of affection and what characterizes anyone consecrated to Christ’s Heart.

Image: Detail of an outdoor statue of the Heart of Jesus, St. Joseph’s Indian School campus, Chamberlain, SD


Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth

“If you want to be more like Christ, then you must first reflect and meditate on his life and his attitudes to feel what he is like.”  What is your experience of reflecting on Scripture?
Using the Holy Scripture to nourish you, Fr. Dehon advises, “Let yourself be led to our Lord by the will rather than the intellect.”  What is the meaning of the distinction that Fr. Dehon makes?
The affection of the heart that the Lord asks for “leads to action and generosity.”  How does this statement match your experience of prayer?


Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayers all Christians, that their affection for Jesus inspires and sustains their loving actions.  You may find helpful the following prayer taken from Crowns of Love for the Sacred Heart I, “Preliminary Meditation,” by Leo John Dehon, SCJ.
My dear Lord,
as I come before your in reverent silence,
I will remain calm in your presence
like an expectant canvas.
I will peacefully and lovingly
contemplate the mysteries of your life.
I will be open to your grace and your love.
In this way,
I will easily distance myself
from distracting thoughts
and I will purify my heart
in the fire of your love
that I may be attentive
to your gentle voice,
which wants to offer me
the gift of your Heart.

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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