February 27, 2015
Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
“Let us love each other as Jesus has loved us, that is to say, generously, faithfully, with disinterestedness, and, if necessary, even to the sacrifice of life. This is the favorite precept of the Sacred Heart of Jesus [cf. John 13:34-35].
Charity immolates itself in patience. It finds an occasion of immolation in the perplexities and vexations of the common life, in the contradictions and pains that the neighbor causes, in bearing with boring and disagreeable characters. If fraternal charity is always necessary in the religious life, is it not especially necessary among the friends of the Heart of Jesus? If any one does not love his brethren and pretends that he loves God, he lies, said the apostle, St. John [I John 4:20-21].
This virtue must be particularly dear to us. It will be manifested by all sorts of kindnesses, harmony, and peace in our relations, by mutual support and the prompt solution of differences that may arise. With the help of our Lord we shall form but one heart and one soul in the Heart of Jesus.
In practice, to preserve this perfect charity by the union of hearts and the family spirit, our [community members] will love all in God, as brothers in Jesus Christ, united to his divine Heart. And because pride is often the rock against which charity happens to be bruised, each of them will keep his eyes open to his own faults and closed to the faults of others.
They will make it a rule not to entertain themselves by discussing the faults which they believe they have seen in others. On the contrary, they will excuse them and will not speak of them, except in cases where charity and duty demand. They shall esteem each other, sincerely respect each other, and fear to offend each other either by their manner or by their words.
They shall be careful to foresee the occasions to help each other, and mutually to render services of a tender and warm-hearted charity to cultivate the union of hearts and the family spirit. Finally, they shall avoid with care divisions which might arise from difference of political or even of theological opinions.
The great lesson of charity flowing from the Heart of Jesus, as related by St. John in the discourse after the Last Supper, should be reread occasionally by each one to keep the fire of charity burning in their hearts [John 13:1-17, 34-35; 15:12-17].
If, however, on account of human frailty it should happen that charity was disturbed by some troublesome incident between two or more confreres, the culpable ones on either side would have nothing more pressing than outwardly to re-establish good harmony and edification by humble apologies and sincere reparations, and inwardly to kill every germ of bitterness and resentment.”
Leo John Dehon, SCJ, Spiritual Directory of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Oblation, The daily practice of offering oneself to God’s will
In writing about charity as one of the characteristic virtues of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Dehon equates its practice with an act of immolation. For Dehon, “immolation” is a synonym for “oblation,” which he understands as the whole-hearted self-offering that an individual makes to God on a daily basis.
With over 25 years of experience living community life, Dehon wrote the Spiritual Directory as a guide for the Priests of the Sacred Heart. He notes that human frailty, the source of “perplexities, vexations, and contradictions,” not only grounds the act of immolation in reality, but also tests its earnestness. Yet, Fr. Dehon also recognizes that charity, as an act of oblation, transforms the pains of a common life into a “union of hearts and a family spirit.”
The General Chapter of the Priests of the Sacred Heart re-wrote their Rule of Life in 1979 and took up the virtue of charity as practiced within community. While the manner of expression has changed from the time of Fr. Dehon, the spirit has remained the same, as evidenced in the following numbers [63-67] from the Rule of Life.
“Our community life is not only a means to an end: although always in need of improvement, it is the fullest realization of our Christian life. We let ourselves be permeated with the love of Christ and we hear His prayer Sint unum [“that all may be one”]: we do our utmost to make our communities authentic centers of Gospel life, particularly by openness, sharing, and hospitality, while respecting those places reserved for the community.
“Imperfect, certainly, like all Christians we want however to set up a milieu which is favorable to the spiritual progress of each one. How else to attain this, if not by deepening in the Lord even our most ordinary relationships with each of our brothers? Charity must be an active hope for what others can become with the help of our fraternal support. The mark of its genuineness will be the simple way with which all strive to understand what each one has at heart.
“Through fellowship even above and beyond conflicts, and through mutual forgiveness, we would like to be a sign that the fraternity for which people thirst is possible in Jesus Christ and we would like to be its servants.
“Community life requires that each one accept others as they are with their personalities, their duties, their initiatives and their limits, and that each one allow himself to be called into question by his brothers.
“These requirements are the basis of a true dialogue, in mutual respect, fraternal love, solidarity, and co-responsibility. In this, too, the community strives to witness to Christ, in whom it is brought together. At the same time it can lend valuable assistance toward the full development of each of its members.”
Reflection Questions, seeds for personal understanding and growth
Although Fr. Dehon wrote about practicing charity within a religious community, his teaching is applicable to any relationship. Remember, your practice of charity is an act of total self-giving to God.
Whom do you find most difficult to love as Jesus loves you? In what one, specific way can you strive to understand what this person has at heart?
To what personal fault do you turn a blind eye? To what fault(s) in others do you shine a light?
Prayer, hands lifted in prayer, hands prepared to serve
In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all who profess the Christian faith. May they be a sign that the community for which people thirst is possible in Jesus Christ. You may find helpful this Oblation Prayer from the Prayer Book of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
We bless you, holy Father,
for having given us your Son, Jesus.
He loved us to the end
and gave his life to unite us in your family.
We make our own his prayer to you:
may we be one
as you are one with your Son
and he with you.
Accept the sacrifice of our life together
as followers of Leo John Dehon.
Accept the joys and sorrows we share
and our commitment to live as a reconciled people.
Animate us by your Spirit
that we may remain in your love
and experience the fullness of your joy.
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