Metanoia: Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer

crucifix

Fr. Dubay points out something very interesting about Mark 1:15, and asks us to consider the following:

The passage says, “Be converted and accept the gospel,” as opposed to “Accept the gospel and it will convert you.”

The conversion, the turning of the mind, has to happen first. This made me think of the term “paradigm shift”, which I first encountered in high school (or was it college)? It’s a phrase I’ve come to associate with conversion. My friend talks about metanoia, which I also think of as a paradigm shift.

Fr. Dubay further clarifies that all of us are afflicted with an omnipresent egocentrism. This is evident, for instance, in much of today’s social media, where oftentimes the apparent prevailing concern is ME-MYSELF-I. “My thoughts and desires and inclinations are SPONTANEOUSLY focused not on others but on myself” (emphases mine), and therefore we have to TRAIN the WILL such that we come to a greater awareness of our egocentricity and can then bend ourselves towards theocentricity.

Instead of everything being about ME, change in the Christian has to happen such that everything then becomes about God. Perhaps we are indeed called to be an alter-Maria, if you will? Another Mary, who is Moon to God’s Sun….

More from Fr. Dubay:

Growing in this fashion sounds easy only to a superficial person. It is a lifetime task and can happen only with the grace of God and a PERSEVERING DETERMINATION on our part. (emphases mine)

turning to an altruistic love for objective truth, goodness and beauty

love truth, the way things objectively are, do not cling to your preferences when they clash with reality

This is difficult especially today when so many lies are being peddled as truth. We need to dissect, look at things from many different angles, scrutinize, and test, to determine if something is of God. The criteria of true, good and beautiful obviously helps here — but even there we run into the same challenge. So many things that are “of the world” have been turned on their heads: lies are sold as truth, evil as good, and hideousness as beauty. A person would have to take a huge step back to get a clearer view of objective reality, of truth — hard to do in today’s world, where many of us are either navel-gazing or porn-gazing, or somewhere in between. An even greater challenge would be a complete renunciation of the world. I keep on wondering, is that what Papa Ben means to do?

Conversion implies not only loving truth but also goodness: humility, honesty, patience, temperance, fortitude, chastity and all the virtues, most especially genuine love.

Altruism and egocentrism are opposites.

From my psychology and biology classes I learned that altruism means looking out for the good of the other, sometimes to the point of self-sacrifice. Meerkats, for instance, to use an oft-given example, station a guard outside their mound while the others feed. The guard looks out for predators, thereby protecting the others.

Here, again, we encounter the problem that today’s society presents us daily. We are told, for instance, that things like abortion and contraception are actually HELPFUL, that they are the altruistic choice. Many are fooled into accepting this lie.

To turn away from the lies, though, and to be able to accept and live the truths of the gospel, μετάνοια has to happen first.

While trying to understand this concept in greater depth, I ran across Pope Benedict XVI’s writings in his book Principles of Catholic Theology, published in 1987 when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. (pages 55-67)

Those who live vigilantly in the world of today, who recognize its contradictions and its destructive tendencies — from the self-destruction of technology by the destruction of the environment to the self-destruction of society by racial and class struggles — such people do not look to Christianity for approbation but for the prophetic salt that burns, consumes, accuses and changes. Nevertheless, a basic aspect of metanoia comes thereby into view — for it demands that man change if he is to be saved.

And oh, there is more.

… the necessity of the confession [of faith] as an act of liberation, of renewal, of surrendering the past and the destructive concealment of one’s own guilt; in the secular sphere, psychology has come, in its fashion, to the realization that guilt, if unmastered, divides a man, destroys him physically and eventually also corporally, but that it can be mastered only by a confrontation that releases into the consciousness what has been suppressed and is festering within for an outlet: the increasing number of such secular confessors should show even a blind man that sin is not a Jewish invention but the burden of al mankind. The true burden from which, above all, man must be freed if he wants and is to be free.

Man is oriented, not to the innermost depths of his own being, but to the God who comes to him from without, to the Thou who reveals himself to him and, in doing so, redeems him. Thus metanoia is synonomous with obedience and faith; that is why it belongs in the framework of the reality of the Covenant; that is why it refers to the community of those who are called to the same way, where there is a belief in a personal God, there horizontality and verticality, inwardness and service, are ultimately not opposites.

Salvation comes only through change; labeling a person conservative is practically synonomous with social excommunication, for it means, in today’s language, that such a one is opposed to progress, closed to what is new and, consequently, a defender of the old, the obscure, the enslaving; that he is an enemy of the salvation that change is expected to bring about.

This little rabbit trail of mine has revealed to me more of Papa Ben’s exquisite writing and teaching…. There is more where that came from, and I am tempted to keep on quoting, as there is so much richness and wisdom in those twelve pages alone. And now I am close to tears again, thinking of all that we’re losing. :’(

But I have to get back to the reflection at hand.

The main message that I’m getting is this: radical conversion, metanoia, a turning of the mind and heart — is not just about the changing of a thought or an action or even some repeated action. It is about the changing of the WHOLE person, such that all that I think, say and do from that point on is a marked departure, perhaps even a 180-degree-turn, from who I was before.

Wow, if that is the point of THIS Lent, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. I sit here and contemplate Jesus’ face in suffering; at the foot of His Cross, the call to change rings clear and true.

One comment

Leave a Reply