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.”
See previous weeks’ reflections under the various headings on the left side of the Dehonian Spirituality page or use the drop-down menu at the top of this page under “Dehonian Spirituality.”
August 15, 2014, Feast of the Assumption
“It was fidelity to the Rule and to duty that raised St. John Berchmans and many others to a great glory in heaven without having accomplished any brilliant feat in the eyes of the world,” wrote Fr. Dehon in his Spiritual Directory, “for it is the heart, the will, and the intention that have value in the eyes of God, and that merit a reward.”
Born in 1599, the eldest son of a master shoemaker in Flanders, John Berchmans’ youthful interests focused on theater and priesthood. He acted in mystery plays throughout his short life. When he turned thirteen, his father decided that John had to leave school so that he could support the family. Working as servant to a Cathedral priest, however, enabled John to attend seminary classes and continue acting in his free time.
Although his father opposed the idea, John eventually entered the Jesuit novitiate. As a novice, he kept notes of his developing spirituality, which he summarized by his maxims, “Prize little things most of all” and “My penance is to live an ordinary life.”
After professing vows, he studied in Rome for three years. Unfortunately, soon after he completed his course in philosophy and defended his thesis in a public debate, he became ill and died in 1621, at the age of 22. The Church canonized John Berchmans in 1888, just ten years after the founding of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. His feast day is August 13.
Fr. Dehon chose this youthful saint as a model for young religious. “What raised St. John Berchmans to sanctity was the fact that he did everything, even the most common things, in a non-common manner, from supernatural motives, in the spirit of living faith, from pure love of God, with the purest intention, in the presence of God, and in close and uninterrupted union with our Lord. In this way he became a splendid example for us.
“His life, so short and nevertheless so rich in virtues and merits, rose to the throne of God as a pleasing holocaust of the faithful fulfillment of duty and of pure and generous love. He is a model for all those who are preparing for the sublime dignity of the priesthood, as well as for all who have received the great happiness of being called to religious life. What gratitude his vocation inspired! What esteem and love he had for it! With what love and filial abandonment he was attached to his holy Order! He understood these words addressed one day by our Lord to his apostles: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” [John 15:16].
As a formation director, it can be tempting to succumb to the temptation that I am God. After all, it is my job to form, educate, shape, and judge the suitability of men who want to become religious brothers or priests. However easy it may be for me, I think the temptation is an easy one for any of us to feel. It is easy to believe that our convictions and values are the best: be they religious, cultural, political, professional, or even as inconsequential as our preferred genre of film or sports team. Take personal conviction, add responsibility for others, toss in power and authority, and how could one not be tempted to play God? I would imagine that teachers, administrators, leaders, and parents also know something of this temptation.
As a Dehonian, my call is to reflect the love contained within the Heart of Christ. That love begins with Christ becoming human. It could be easy at this point to get very heady and loft in the stratosphere of theology. But consider it: God’s first act of love was to experience and understand life from another perspective: ours. And let’s face it: any differences I might have with another person pale in comparison to that of the Creator becoming one of the created!
The person who taught me the most about this sort of love was my Grandmother. She had eight children who could not have been more different from each other. They were workers, housewives, soldiers, professionals, athletes, nerds, masters graduates and later-in-life GED earners. And, she was equally proud and interested in the life of each one and loved them for who they were and not who she wanted them to be. What better example could there be of the love of a God who was willing to become human?
As I said, it is my job to form and judge the suitability of men who want to be religious and ministers. In the 21st century, I’ve been responsible for the formation of a diverse group of men. I’ve had responsibility for students from three continents, and an easy half-dozen countries and cultures. There have been men interested in developing pastoral skills, and men interested in the world of academe. There have been many from many backgrounds: traditional, progressive, charismatic, mystic, scholastic, immigrant, white, Latino, Mestizo, Pole, Democrat, Republican, unenfranchized, and even a Cubs fan.
It could be tempting for my standard to be how closely they come to resemble my values and convictions. I could challenge those who differ from my perspective, and give those who are similar an easy pass. Some directors sadly choose that route. I could narrowly ask if they are able to live my understanding of what it means to be a Priest of the Sacred Heart, or I could take my cue from an incarnate God, attempt to understand who they are, ask them how they will live and love as a Priest of the Sacred Heart, and challenge and celebrate with them as they do it.
Duane Lemke, SCJ, Formation Director
Energy seems to be the most striking feature of this painting commissioned by the Spanish Province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart and created by Goyo Dominguez. The youthful look of Fr. Dehon and Jesus, their gaze directed at the viewer, the burst of light emanating from Jesus’ heart, and the splash of blood and water from Jesus’ outstretched hands filling the entire background communicate a contagious dynamism.
The blood and water allude to the final moments of the crucifixion scene in the Gospel of John. Immediately after Jesus exclaims, “It is finished” and gives up his spirit, a soldier pierces Jesus’ side, from which flows blood and water [John 19:30-34]. Symbolically, it is the Church which flows from the completion of Jesus’ work on earth. Receiving, participating in, and sharing the life and energy of Jesus is another way to speak of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. The placement of this image of Jesus directly in front of Dehon’s heart visually suggests that this expression of the Heart of Jesus nourished Fr. Dehon’s interior life.
Indeed, it is in union with the Heart of Jesus that Fr. Dehon wished to embrace reality. Using the Latin translation of “It is finished,” Dehon spoke his own Consummatum est at the moment Rome suppressed his five-year old Congregation of Oblates of the Heart of Jesus. Although he firmly believed that “the Work,” as Dehon referred to his religious community, had been God’s will, he obediently accepted the painful decision. Yet, in the unfathomable workings of Providence, from what seemed like complete destruction, flowed the restored Congregation under the name “Priests of the Heart of Jesus.”
With their earthly work now finished, both Jesus and Dehon present the viewer with blood and water. Born from this life and energy, followers of Jesus and members of the Dehonian family are challenged to carry on the work of proclaiming the reign of God and making it a reality in a world that often privileges the few to the detriment of many. Yet, even from setbacks, failures, and seeming ineffectiveness, flows abundant life and transforming energy that proves to be contagious.
Note: One image can have different meanings. This is not the artist’s interpretation. Click here for an explanation [in Spanish] of the artist’s Trinitarian interpretation as an expression of Dehonian spirituality.
Goyo Dominguez, artist; oil on canvas
August 15, Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the dates on which members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the United States profess their vows. Other dates include March 19, Feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary; August 22, Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and September 8, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all women and men religious who profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, especially the young members of these communities.
No matter the specific vocation, Jesus calls every Christian to follow him. Take a moment to consider how you follow Jesus and then use this prayer of Fr. Dehon, taken from his meditation book, The Retreat with the Sacred Heart.
this is truly what I want:
I want to live and die loving you.
It is in your Sacred Heart
and according to its designs and its inspirations
that I want to live, to suffer, and to act.
I do not want to seek my own satisfaction, but your will.
In all things I want to fulfill it,
because there is nothing better or more perfect.
I belong to you, O my Savior;
do with me what you will.
Accept this offering of my entire life that I am making to you
and kindly accept it as a sacrifice of adoration
and a sacrifice of love and reparation.