Holiness from the Heart of Jesus: Blessed Dina Bélanger

“More Brilliant than the Sun," a weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy 

The series so far:
PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness
PART 2:  What Do We Really Mean By “The Heart of Jesus”?
PART 3:  Devotion to the Heart of Jesus and its Roots in Holy Scripture
PART 4: The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament
PART 5: 
 The Heart of Jesus Manifest in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love
PART 6: 
 The Heart of Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross
PART 7:  From Easter Onward: The Heart of Jesus Lives in His Church
PART 8:  The Flowering of Love for the Heart of Jesus in the Middle Ages
PART 9:  Saint Gertrude the Great on Bringing Comfort and Joy to the Heavenly Christ
PART 10:  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Reparation to the Sacred Heart
PART 11:  On Consoling the Heart of Jesus
PART 12:  Saints and Servants of Consoling Reparation to the Heart of Jesus
PART 13:  The Twelve Promises — and the Great Promise — of the Sacred Heart 
PART 14:  Holiness from the Heart of Jesus: St. Charles De Foucauld

PART 15: Holiness from the Heart of Jesus: Blessed Dina Belanger

If we cross the ocean to Quebec, we find in Bl. Dina Bélanger (1897-1929), a religious of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, another holy soul totally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and especially to consoling reparation to His Heart.

She was born in Quebec City, the only child of a fairly wealthy family, surrounded by love and showered with blessings right from the start. Her parents provided her with tender care, religious formation, and a solid example of Christian virtue.

Even in her early youth, Dina felt herself called to an intense life of prayer. At the age of 13, for example, she consecrated her whole life to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dina wrote: “Would that I might consecrate all souls to [Mary]. It is she who leads us to Jesus; it is she whom we must allow to live in us in order that Christ may substitute Himself in place of our nothingness.”

Beauties of nature
Dina was especially enthralled by the radiant glory of God shining through the beauties of nature — and those who have ever been to Quebec will appreciate that such beauty was all around her. She wrote (The Autobiography of Dina Bélanger. Quebec: Religious of Jesus and Mary, 1984 edition, p. 39):

I spent the summer in the country with my parents. Nature with its varied charms exerted a powerful spell over me; dusk settling down over the landscape, moonlight shimmering on the water, flowers, the forest, the river, butterflies, birds all enraptured me. The warm caressing breath of the wind, the whispered murmur of the leaves, the deep silence of the night, the aspect of the stars ravished my soul. This reverie, all unknown to me, was a sort of pious meditation, which was to deepen and become a real contemplation rendering me speechless, and inflaming me with gratitude and love for the Infinite God and consuming me with the desire to possess the unique, ideal Beauty.

At the age of 17, Dina expressed the desire to make consoling reparation to Jesus a central motivation of her whole life (Autobiography, third edition, 1977, p.80):

At the beginning of the World War in 1914, I offered myself to Our Lord, body and soul, in a spirit of reparation and love, so as to console him a little and save souls. I was distressed above all by the moral evil that threatened the world. The insight I had was so vivid that, seeing Jesus suffering so much, I could not be happy unless I tried to dry his tears by the few means at my disposal.

Musical talent
Dina was also gifted with natural musical talent. She advanced rapidly in piano and in musical composition, so that even her spiritual guides encouraged her to glorify God by pursuing a music career. At the age of 19, therefore, her parents sent her for musical studies to a conservatory in New York, where she lodged with two friends from Quebec at a convent of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. All the while, Dina was deepening in prayer and growing in virtue. She would go to the convent chapel often to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament: “How often, late in the evening, by the pale flickering of the sanctuary lamp, have I come close to Jesus and there, leaning against the altar rail, listened to His voice and poured forth the secrets of my heart!”

Dina Belanger was admitted into the postulancy of the Religious of Jesus and Mary in 1921 at the age of 24. As she stepped through the door of the convent, she heard the words in her soul, “This is Home.” And home it would be for the rest of her short life.

The religious order Dina had joined actually was a teaching order, and her primary role in the community was to serve as a music teacher. She wrote (Autobiography, 1984 edition, p. 115):

I still continued my teaching. How I loved my pupils! It has been the same for all the children who have since been confided to my care. I loved them with an affection which sought their welfare. ... I identified Jesus personally with each one of my pupils and pictured Him at their age, coming to me for a lesson.

Exchange of hearts
During her postulancy and novitiate, Jesus continued to deepen His relationship with Dina’s soul. At this time, she had an experience in prayer very similar to that of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, an experience known in the Catholic Tradition as a spiritual “exchange of hearts” with Christ. She described the experience like this (Autobiography, 1984 edition, p. 102):

It was the second night of [a] retreat. During our free time before the preparation for the morrow’s meditation, I went to chapel. Darkness was falling and deep silence pervaded the sanctuary. Jesus made me hear the sweet tones of His voice and I felt myself enraptured. Peace, love, and confidence enveloped me. Then, the dear Lord removed my poor heart as easily as one picks up something and puts it elsewhere, and, O joy! replaced it by His own, and that of His Immaculate Mother. This was symbolical also, but there certainly took place in me a mystical operation that no pen can describe.

As her devotional life matured, Bl. Dina’s chosen religious motto became “To love and to suffer.” The core of her spiritual life was her understanding of the mystical “substitution” of Jesus Christ for her soul; in other words, His mystical indwelling that enabled Him to live in her and through her, so that even her life of reparation to the Sacred Heart was truly lived “in Christ” at every moment. This idea of mystical “substitution” was not intended by Bl. Dina to be a doctrinal novelty, but simply a vivid way of expressing St. Paul’s teaching from Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (see Irène Léger, RJM, Courage to Love: the Life of Dina Belanger, second ed. Rome: Congregation of Jesus and Mary, 1986, p. 83-90).

In one of the most famous passages from her autobiography, Bl. Dina describes in greater detail what she meant by mystical “substitution” (Autobiography, third edition, p. 156):

If I left everything in the care of Jesus, what would happen? Jesus, in return, undertook to do everything: to think, speak, act, not only with me but in my place. He substituted Himself for me and I let Him have His way. Oh! What a choice gift it is to understand how to let the Savior live within oneself! I wish I could obtain this grace for every soul.

The desire to bring consolation to the Heart of Jesus also remained central to Dina’s spiritual journey. For one thing, she believed that in some mysterious way she could console the glorified humanity of our Lord in Heaven. For example, one time Bl. Dina reflected upon His heavenly sorrow at the sight of the sins of humanity (Autobiography, third edition, p. 139):

The immense sorrow of my good Master filled me with compassion and inflamed me with love. What a touching scene this was! Only in eternity will we have some realization of the pain that Our Saviour suffers because of our sins, our carelessness, our lack of love. And to think that we can console him! “Why, Jesus, do you give us poor creatures the honour of wiping away some of your tears? Your holy Mother, the pure Virgin, is always there, beside you: millions of angelic spirits belong to your court, praising you without ceasing, yet you stoop down to us, begging us to pour a few drops of balm on the wounds of your Heart! O mystery of divine Love! Infinite love of the Shepherd for his sheep!”

Mysterious paradox
At the same time, Bl. Dina did not seem to believe that Jesus was literally suffering in Heaven. Much like St. Gertrude the Great, she discerned in all this a mysterious paradox (Autobiography, third edition, p. 330):

It is true that, since his Resurrection, Our Lord, in the Host, is no longer able to suffer; but the insults, the contempt, the hatred, the neglect, the indifference, and ingratitude affect him all the same and wound his Eucharistic Heart.

In several other passages in her Autobiography, and in a way that echoes the spirituality of Bl. Julian of Norwich, Bl. Dina also writes of the “thirst” of the glorified Christ for souls, and of His additional, heavenly “joy” and “delight” when He is able to bring them to salvation (Autobiography, third edition, p. 335). Jesus said to her:

Apart from the eternal and perfect happiness that I enjoy in my Father and in myself, my happiness is to reproduce myself in the souls that I have created out of love. The more a soul allows me to reproduce myself faithfully in her, the more joy and contentment I find. The greatest joy a soul can give me is to allow me to raise her up to my Divinity. Yes, my little Bride, I take immense pleasure in transforming a soul into myself, in deifying it, in absorbing it wholly into the Divinity.

In addition, somewhat later in her life, our Lord began to show her that we also can console Him retroactively, in the midst of His Agony and Passion long ago, through His prevision at that time of all faithful souls of future generations. Usually, it was just after Holy Communion — especially on the first Fridays of the month — that Bl. Dina experienced the agony of Christ in the Garden, mysteriously made present to her through the Eucharist, and this vivid experience moved her to a fervent desire to console Him (Autobiography, third edition, p. 272-275):

[Jesus said] Very few souls, even consecrated souls, know how to sympathize with the agony of my Heart! ... If religious souls only knew! But alas! They do not know! Some do not know because they are afraid to know! They are afraid of having to give up some of their attachments ... I do not call all consecrated souls to enter sensibly and in a special way into my agony; that is a favour I grant to certain souls that I myself choose. But I call all consecrated souls to console my Heart by obedience, regularity, perfect observance of the Rule, and care to perform every action perfectly out of pure love for me.

In this passage we can also see Christ teaching Bl. Dina that there are many ways in which faithful souls can console Him; indeed, any action can do so that is motivated by “pure love.”

Abyss of tenderness
The underlying reason why Jesus can and ought to be consoled was summed up by Bl. Dina near the end of her life, and she marks it as one of the greatest mysteries of His love (Autobiography, third edition, p. 293):

Good Friday. My good Master is giving me a share in the feelings of tenderness experienced by his Heart during his Passion and on the cross. The tenderness of the Heart of Jesus! Oh! I never understood it until yesterday and today. Human words can convey nothing of it. The tender feelings of the heart of the best of mothers can in no way be compared with it. The Heart of Jesus is an abyss of tenderness ... that is all I can say, because I have no words with which to express what I now understand.

While there is tremendous mystical depth in Bl. Dina’s devotion to the Heart of Jesus, we should not miss the note of down-to-earth realism here. First, she expresses that realism in her Autobiography when she writes (1984 edition, p. 309): “My Jesus, do everything Thyself, for Thou seest how hard it is.” And yet, by speaking of the indwelling of Christ as a kind of mystical “substitution” of Jesus for the soul, she reassures us that trustful surrender to Him is not something we have to do all on our own. On the contrary, Christ our Savior loves us so much that it is Jesus Himself, dwelling within us, who enables us to trust in Him for everything. As she explained in her Autobiography (third edition, p. 189):

If I can say: “I let Jesus have His way and concern myself only with Him,” it is because, through trust, I count on Him alone so as to refuse Him nothing and to correspond always to His inspiration. And my trust in God is not a human trust — wavering, insecure, such as might spring from my weakness, certainly not; it is the trust of God Himself which I borrow, which I make my own.

Again, among the last words that Bl. Dina wrote were the following (Autobiography, 1984 edition, p. 334): “Jesus, be my life, my Divine Substitute forever! Keep my whole being, with all its frailty, and its weakness, annihilated in Thee, in Thy love and Thy mercy!”

Rays of light
Finally, one of the visions received by Bl. Dina seems to pull together her whole spirituality — the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Host, divine rays, flowing graces — it unites them all together into one extraordinary manifestation of the merciful love of Christ in the Eucharist. Dina wrote (Autobiography, 1984 edition, p. 313-314):

This morning when I arrived in Chapel, a little before six o’clock, I found Our Lord pleased. He seemed consoled. ... Finally, during the Communion of the Community at Mass, I found it impossible to resist the force of this divine light any longer so I abandoned myself to the action of Our Lord. My Savior made me see His adorable Heart in the Sacred Host. I did not look upon His sacred countenance, but His Heart and the Host captivated me. The two, His Heart and the Host, were perfectly united, so much so that I cannot explain how it was possible for me to distinguish one from the other. From the Host there radiated a vast number of rays of light. From His Heart there sprang an infinity of flames which escaped with irresistible force. The Blessed Virgin was there close to Our Lord, so close that she seemed lost in Him and yet I could distinguish her from Him. ... All the rays of the Host and all the flames of the Heart of Jesus passed [through] the Immaculate Heart of the most Holy Virgin. ... I cried out:

“O Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, I entreat Thee, by Our Lady of the Eucharistic Heart, reign over all souls as Thou desirest.”

[And Jesus said in response]:

“My Heart overflows with grace for souls. Bring souls to My Eucharistic Heart!”

This series continues next week with Part 16: "The Social Reign of the Sacred Heart."
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