It all began with the Heart of Jesus

Author: Dariusz Pielak, SVD
Subject: The Way of Holiness, Arnold Janssen
Language: English, Spanish

It is a classic statement that St. Arnold Janssen was very devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We usually mention this fact, listing the various “devotions” of our Founder. However, it is worth asking a fundamental question: what role did this devotion play in the spiritual history of Fr. Arnold?

When we read the biographies of the great saints, there is often a decisive moment that turns their lives upside down, triggering processes that turned simple people, often far removed from the faith, into great exploits. St. Paul “fell off the horse” (well, the Bible does not speak of the horse, but the artists have convinced us of its existence!). St. Francis and St. Ignatius were wounded in war and, after being cured, totally rethought their lives. St. Anthony Abbot entered a church and suddenly heard the words: “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor”.

When we read the biography of St. Arnold, it is difficult to find that decisive moment. It seems that from an early age he was a devout and responsible boy. A vicar of his parish, a certain Fr. Heinrich Ruiter, encouraged Arnold’s parents to give him the necessary education so that he could later study in the seminary. Fr. Ruiter became, in Arnold’s life, a true evangelical Simeon. He arrived in the parish on the day of our Founder’s birth and died a year after St. Arnold began his education. All that remained was for him to utter his own “Nunc dimittis” (“Now, Lord, let your servant go in peace”). What would have become of Arnold without that simple priest? Would he have become a priest, or would he have taken over his father’s small transport business?

Arnold, after finishing his education, was ordained a priest at the age of 24. We know that he had some initial problems: he had to repeat his first year at the minor seminary and that he studied science, but finally he leaves us with the impression that his life was a serene continuity. Perhaps the only thing that the biographies tell us is that he had a temptation to overcome, namely, when he finished in the faculty of pedagogy, because he had such brilliant results, he received a proposal from the relevant authorities to continue his studies along the path of science. But Arnold overcame that temptation and continued in the seminary.

Fr. Arnold spent the next 12 years mainly as a teacher at a school in Bocholt. It was there that a turning point in his life took place that we should pay attention to. Many years later he confessed: “In Bocholt I was motivated by the desire to do something more for the good of the Church and the missions.”  Arnold was not content with his daily teaching duties and pastoral work on weekends. He wanted to do “something more”. These simple words define his restless spirit and his desire to be useful to God in a more forceful way.

And he finally found the right field in which to fulfill his heart’s desire. Providence put in his way the movement of the Apostleship of Prayer. It was a spiritual initiative of the French Jesuits that consisted in grouping people into prayer groups to prayer with the desires of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And what were these desires? The antiphon of the Mass of the Heart of Jesus says: “The plans of the Lord’s heart subsist from age to age: to deliver the lives of his faithful from death and to revive them in time of famine”. We can ask ourselves: who for St. Arnold was the closest to death and the hungriest? Who more than everyone else needs salvation? Of course, the people who are far from the God of Jesus Christ, that is, sinners and “the heathen”. (Perhaps it is not superfluous to underline that this spirituality is still very current, but in the last decades it has been complemented by a clearer option not only for the poor and hungry, in the spiritual sense, but above all in the temporal sense, as the biblical message often underlines).

St. Arnold began to visit parishes, to gather people into prayer groups, and to publish printed materials with the necessary prayers and detailed clarifications of the intentions for which people were to pray. And so, his heart was kindled with an apostolic fire that eventually led him to establish the first German missionary seminary which became the cradle of the three congregations he founded.

To resume: St. Arnold’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was not “just another devotion” in his rich spiritual life but became for him what the entrance to Damascus was for St. Paul, the wound of war for St. Francis, or the voice of God “Sell all that you have” in the ears of St. Anthony Abbot. At the same time, it is surprising to what extent elements of this devotion defined the spiritual thought of our Founder. But this topic deserves a separate reflection.

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Dariusz Pielak, SVD
Dariusz Pielak, SVD

Dariusz Pielak born on 30.03.1965 in Poland. In 1985 he joined the Society of the Divine Word. During the seminary he did the experience of OTP in Argentina in a community of life inserted in popular environments of Greater Buenos Aires. After finishing the seminary he worked in Spain and did a licentiate in biblical theology there. Since 2003 he has been working in Russia teaching at the seminary and attending the parish of St. Olga in Moscow. He also devotes himself to deepen the themes related to the spiritual history of Arnold Janssen.

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