This School of Love
“…take my soul into your most sacred wound, so that in this school of love, I may learn to make a return of love to God, who has given me such wondrous proofs of his love.”
POSTED March 7, 2014:
March 14: A Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving on the anniversary of Fr. Dehon’s birth
In his personal journals, Fr. Leo John Dehon often used the anniversary of his birth to focus on his faults and to accuse himself of losing so many graces. His only recourse was to ask for forgiveness and rely completely upon God’s mercy and friendship. In 1913, however, he allowed a somewhat more positive reflection:
“The Holy Father has sent me his congratulations and his blessing for my 70th birthday. This is too great an honor for a little nothing, and a less than nothing like me. Everything is being readied for the end, which is not far off. Here is a copy of the letter from the Secretary of State:
‘Very Reverend General Superior, it has pleased his Holiness to learn that the members of the Congregation that you founded in 1877 have proposed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of your birth and to offer you on this occasion a special testimony of their affection and devotion.
‘The Sovereign Pontiff, who is not unaware of your zeal, your dedication, and the works that you have established, most willingly unites himself to the joy of your religious family, while he calls down abundant heavenly graces on your person, your Institute, and your works. With all his heart he sends you, together with his congratulations and best wishes, a special Apostolic Blessing, which extends to the members of your Congregation.
‘Kindly accept, Very Reverend General Superior, with my congratulations and my personal wishes, the assurance of my devoted sentiments in our Lord. Cardinal Merry de Val.’
“In the Congregation they will pray for me, this is what I appreciate most. The Councilors have sent our houses a circular letter, which invites our members to make March 14 a day of prayer and thanksgiving. The priests are invited to say Holy Mass for my intentions; the others will offer Holy Communion. Thanks be to God! I have such a great need for the mercy of the Sacred Heart!”
Fr. Charles Brown, SCJ, who created the image of the crucified Christ, seen at the top of this page, explains that it is a visual presentation of an early Christian hymn, which St. Paul quotes in his letter to the Philippians (2:6-11). It attempts, largely without words, to express layers of meaning, including a classic reading of the hymn, and another, perhaps original one.
The classic reading is centered on Christ. This text describes how the sinless Son of God, united from all eternity in triune Godhead with the Father and the Spirit, debased himself and poured out his life on the cross for the salvation of humankind. The concluding verses then express the fact of Christ’s risen glory.
Another, perhaps original, reading is centered on humankind and is an ancient Christian commentary on Genesis, chapters 1-3, with Christ as the lens. The first humans, created in the image and likeness of God, exploited that likeness through their disobedience (notice, the serpent tells the woman, “you will be like God”).
In their disobedience, the first humans brought sin and death into God’s good creation. In his self-emptying on the cross, Christ, in the form of God, refused to grasp or exploit his divine likeness (as the first humans did), and by his refusal he overturned the power of sin and death in creation. Because of Christ’s self-offering, his risen exaltation becomes a foretaste of human transformation. Christ’s triumph tells us who we are becoming.
So, we find at least two layers of meaning in Philippians 2:6-11. Both ways speak of Christ Jesus: one from the divine perspective and the other from the human. These intersect in Christ himself who, through his death and exaltation, has restored to humanity the promise of being in God’s image.
If you choose to use this image as a focus for your prayer, it may be helpful to note several of its visual markers and to consider the affirmation and challenge it contains. Jesus’ five wounds, but particularly his opened heart, are the clearest expression of Christ’s self-offering. Christ’s physicality and the demeaning cross are framed in gold and scarlet, conveying exultation and transformation. The Greek abbreviations at the top of the cross, indicating “Jesus Christ,” and the Greek phrase around Christ’s head, meaning, “the one who is” (Exodus 3:14), are expressions of “the name that is above every name” given by God.
Take a few moments to gaze upon the image of Christ crucified, seen at the top of this page. Allow this image to help you reflect on the following statements and questions.
Dehonian spirituality seeks to join one’s oblation to Christ’s self-emptying. As you gaze upon Christ’s wounded, yet exalted body, acknowledge your own wounds and the possibility of transformation.
Created in the image and likeness of God, your body has the potential either to exploit or honor your identity. What do your thoughts and actions reveal about your body’s disposition?
Christ’s self-emptying and exaltation tells human beings who they are becoming. As a collaborator with Christ Jesus, how do you share in his ministry of restoring human dignity to a wounded and wounding world?
To conclude the final meditation in his book, The Life of Love towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thirty-three Meditations for the Month of the Sacred Heart, Father Dehon wrote this prayer, which aptly serves as a daily self-offering:
you have given me the grace to begin loving you;
give me also the grace to persevere in your love,
cost what it may.
In the spirit of love
I wish to offer to you constantly
my daily actions, works, and sufferings.
POSTED March 3, 2014:
What is Dehonian spirituality?
Of the innumerable ways to contemplate God’s infinite love for creation, the Priests of the Sacred Heart gaze upon the wounded body of Jesus on the cross, particularly his pierced side that symbolically opens a pathway to his heart. It is their goal to be totally united to the thoughts and sentiments of the Heart of Jesus so that they might be prophets of God’s love and servants of reconciliation, particularly among people who feel shunned, invisible, or oppressed.
Among the many prayers that the Priests of the Sacred Heart recited in common, before Vatican II mandated the renewal of religious life, they prayed this thanksgiving for the Eucharist every night before retiring:
My loving Jesus,
look how far your boundless love has gone!
Of your own flesh and precious blood
you have prepared for me a divine food
in order to give yourself wholly to me.
What has impelled you to such heights of love?
Surely nothing else than your heart
filled with so great a love.
Adorable heart of my Jesus,
burning furnace of divine love,
take my soul into your most sacred wound,
so that in this school of love
I may learn to make a return of love to God,
who has given me such wonderful proofs of his love.
Flesh and blood, heart, furnace, wound, and school—these work as synonyms within this prayer. The body of Jesus, on the cross and ever after, speaks of unconditional love for every human body. His heart is the source of love so powerfully transforming that one might think of the energy captured in a furnace of blazing fire. That which impels Jesus is a love so courageously unafraid to be broken open that his wounded side becomes an inviting doorway into a school of love.
Obviously, if the teacher is someone who loved enough to give his life for the benefit of others, this school of love is no ivory tower. The wounded side of Jesus is a place to learn, but never a place to hide. The homework is always the same: to make a return of love to God. The specifics of this response, however, vary among individuals and over time.
As followers of Fr. Dehon, the Priests of the Sacred Heart and the Dehonian Associates commit themselves to “contemplate the love of Christ in the mysteries of His life and the life of people.” By continually integrating God’s love with human need and ever-changing circumstances, this school of love fosters the necessary discernment regarding how best to offer one’s own flesh and blood, united with the flesh and blood of Jesus, for the abundant life of the world.
May weekly postings on the Dehonian Spirituality page, This School of Love, assist in this life-long learning.
EDITOR’S NOTE (March 3, 2014): We are redeveloping the “Prayer” section of the website so that it is more directly based in the Dehonian charism and SCJ spirituality. Please check back regularly for reflections and prayers, most of which will be developed by David Schimmel, province director of Dehonian Associates. Also, we appreciate your patience as we begin to put the new pieces of the site in place. As anyone who has worked with a website knows, there are usually a few bugs to work out.