Which life would you rather ensue? That of a Pharisee or of Jesus?
Seems like a simple answer, doesn’t it?
It’s a question Father Michael Dechant asked at his keynote address at the Catholic Education: A National Conversation convention in Ottawa.
Fr. Dechant was born in the Peace River Country of northern Alberta, living a life deeply rooted in the soil, as his father was a farmer and cattleman. He is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, ordained to the priesthood in 1975.
His address, titled Regaining our Spiritual Equilibrium, centred on how to emulate the mind and heart of Jesus Christ within the Canadian Catholic education school system.
“What’s our attitude in terms of your own leadership?” he asked delegates.
To outline his point, he compared the Pharisees to Jesus, identifying their approach to life and acceptance of others.
Talking to the 250 delegates – all of whom play a part in Catholic education in Canada – Fr. Dechant outlined how it’s tempting to adopt the Pharisee attitude in the school setting.
Focusing on the voice of authority and obligation, rules became a powerful source of motivation and control with the Pharisees.
“When you live the rule of the law rather than the letter of the law, you’re quick to question people’s goodness,” he said.
When prompted by self-righteousness, he says the Pharisees reflected attitudes of judgement and condemnation. These implications to Catholic education are massive when we respond with these same attitudes.
“What are the hypocrisies in our schools, homes and parishes?” he asked. “What are the implications of Catholic education if we choose to live out the attitude of the Pharisees?”
Fr. Dechant pulled supporting Bible scriptures, outlining the Pharisees approach to control, attitude and judgement, as well as documenting Jesus’ warnings against the Pharisees.
Turning to Jesus, Fr. Dechant encourage educators, clergy and trustees to be guided by love.
“Rather than determined by rules, life is to be animated by love,” he said.
In contrast to the Pharisees judgemental approach, Jesus’ spirituality embraces inclusion. He didn’t focus on race, religious, social status and cultural norms and laws.
With many convention delegates playing a leadership role within the Canadian Catholic education system, Fr. Dechant encouraged them to pull away from the Pharisee practices and instead look to Jesus for guidance.
Following Fr. Dechant’s keynote address, delegates were asked: ‘In the next five years, what would make you proud to be associated with Catholic education and CCSTA?’
Many answers mirrored Dechant’s message.
Delegates said they want to promote inclusion and ensure graduates take the Catholic education torch. As well, the delegates stated they wanted to see a strong, vibrant, youth program in all parishes, connected with the schools, as well as having teachers take part in weekly mass and embrace religious courses.
Social justice and meeting the Catholic Graduate Expectations were also listed, as well as wanting to adopt a proactive approach rather than one that’s reactive.
The responses summarize well the point Fr. Dechant made in his keynote.
“How do we help kids grow in the heart of Jesus?” he asked. “By being inclusive and collaborative, and to do this, we need to work together.”
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