MUENSTER, Sask. — “When you hear the word ‘dangerous,’ what comes to mind?” Rev. Mike Dechant, OMI, asked the participants of the annual Newman Retreat, Jan. 29 - 31, at St. Peter’s Abbey. The word “dangerous” conjures images of threats to one’s life or way of thinking, some of the respondents said. Others felt that dangerous could mean a warning or something that is challenging.
Reflecting on the theme of the retreat, Heart to Heart, Dechant told the true story of a teenage girl who was cyber-bullied by some teenage boys. The boys thought she had an attitude problem at school and decided to get even by sending her demeaning text messages. One of their peers knew that what they were doing was wrong and opened his heart to her by counterbalancing the degrading messages with positive texts. The power of all the text messages was related by the girl to the kind boy. She thanked him for his support and revealed that she was overwhelmed by the cyber-bullying and was going to “do myself in,” but his many affirmations gave her the strength to keep on.
When the young man was asked what he discovered in all of this, he said, “I realize I am dangerous,” Dechant remarked.
Pope Francis said we need to be champions of service, but in that service there needs to be the message that God is good and that God is good all the time. People need to have a dangerous heart which is a heart that is full of God’s love.
Jesus Christ was considered dangerous to many around him because of the messages of love and mercy that he preached. Jesus said that if anyone wants to be his disciple, then that person must follow him. Jesus often challenged his followers to look at their perceptions of others. In doing so, Jesus was sometimes accused of violating sacred laws and traditions. Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath and was criticized of breaking the Sabbath law which forbids work. The actions of Jesus were not meant to demean the Sabbath but to illustrate that the person is what matters, Dechant remarked.
The critics of Jesus believed in clear laws and rules, but they enforced them without hearts of compassion and mercy. A lawyer informed Jesus of the laws he was following to inherit everlasting life. Jesus was pleased with the lawyer and then told him the story of the Good Samaritan, where a man went against the precepts of the law by showing mercy to someone in need.
Mother Teresa is someone who challenged norms and customs simply by the way she lived, Dechant said, and as a result she was dangerous to many. When Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work, she was invited to a lavish banquet in New York City. She declined the invitation and asked that the money for the banquet be sent to her religious order where the money could be used for charity. Mother Teresa disrupted the pattern of recognition because of her different priorities which were to spend money where it was needed.
Pope Francis is dangerous to some because he is shaking up the church hierarchy, Dechant commented. Shortly after being elected, Francis did a dangerous thing by going to a prison and washing the feet of prisoners and kissing their feet. The pope later changed the way the Vatican soup kitchen operated because he felt it was not reaching enough people. The pope fired the cardinal in charge and hired another official, telling him to sell the desk in his office and use the money for the soup kitchen.
Some students from St. Albert, Alta., experienced the meaning of dangerous when they travelled with Dechant to New Orleans to help people whose homes had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The students assisted parishioners of two Oblate parishes in the French quarter. Dechant and the students helped clean and renovate homes. The people there were very welcoming and gracious. The students brought them prayer shawls.
“The shawls were knitted by moms and nuns. Well, the hugs and kisses and tears. It was overwhelming. And it was overwhelming for the kids to see the gratitude of the folks.”
The experience of the love and mercy changed both the students and those they helped. A simple act of goodness and opening one’s heart to others can be so dangerous and powerful that it changes both the giver and the receiver.
“Did you have anyone come into your life who was dangerous?” Dechant asked.
St. Paul encouraged everyone to become saints and to live a life of holiness. Always be thankful, be grateful. What matters is how people treat others, he said. Put on holiness, put on love. Be open to be transparent and to take a risk.
“Don’t wait till you are dead to be a saint,” Dechant said.