From PARANOIA to METANOIA
A dishonest painter thought he could make some extra money by adding paint thinner to his paint. Being a member of the parish, the local pastor hired him to paint the church which was badly in need of a face lift. Unfortunately (or fortunately) as the paint was drying, a heavy rainfall hit the church, washing much of the paint to the ground. When the pastor received the invoice for the paint-job, he returned it “unpaid” – but with the admonition: “Repaint, you thinner, and thin no more!”
The Season of Lent is a time for each of us to take stock of our spiritual journey – how am I living in my relationship with God, with others and myself? Lent is a call to reconciliation, to change whatever is in my life that is not life-giving. Reconciliation means “to change” – from the Latin “re” which means, “again”, and “conciliare”, which means, “to come together” – hence “to come together again”. The implication or presupposition is that there was a “togetherness” to begin with, but something happened to cause a break, a hurt, a falling-out. But before I may be willing to change, to repent, I must first acknowledge the sin / the break that I have caused or what may have been the cause of my hurt. To change, to repent, to forgive or ask forgiveness takes courage and inner fortitude – a gift from God.
An initial reaction to the need to change, to let go can be PARANOIA – a word which means “to be overcome by fear, to run away, to deny, to try to escape”. This is often expressed in a persistent procrastination or avoidance. When the pain is too deep, it can be easier to soothe or drown the pain with alcohol or food, or many other forms of escape – which can easily develop into many forms of addictions. Though we know that escaping is not the answer, change can be difficult. Lent can provide a setting or context to begin a focus and effort to change deep-seated, unhealthy behaviors and attitudes, that is, to have a change of heart.
METANOIA, the Greek word for repentance or change, means “to put on our highest mind, to have a change of heart” – to be the best person I can possibly be, to make a deliberate and life-giving “turn around”. Traditionally, the Church suggests three important actions during Lent – prayer, almsgiving and fasting. These are three ways to live out the Great Commandment: “ Love God with your whole mind and heart and soul” and to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”.
Prayer is a way to connect with God’s unconditional love for us, and to love him in return. It’s an intimate way to hear God say to us, “You are my beloved daughter / son in whom I take great delight”. Or to hear God say, “There is nothing you can do to keep me from loving you less.” Prayer is our best way to love God, and to answer our deep human need to be loved. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord”.
Almsgiving is a way to love others. It can be the best reflection of our ‘stewardship” to others, sharing our time and treasures and talents. It may include sharing our material and financial resources, but also those gifts which “touch the heart” – a compliment or affirmation, an act of kindness or reassuring touch. We give alms whenever we communicate with love and affection, sharing our thoughts and feelings with trust, listening with understanding and compassion. We all have an inherent need to belong; we all ‘long to be’ in meaningful relationship with others.
Fasting is a way to love one’s self. Fasting might mean to simplify our lives – to free ourselves of inordinate pleasures and distractions, to create an “empty space” within ourselves where God can be God. An old adage: “hurting people hurt people”! When we have been hurt by harsh words, physical or mental abuse, how do we let it go? We can fast by letting go of our persistent grudges, condemnatory judgements, revenge, or the need to be right. HOW? by asking for forgiveness, by offering forgiveness of those who have hurt us. To restore the human dignity, the personal worth of another is one of the greatest gifts we can share as one living in community.
The cycle from sin to grace – from paranoia to metanoia – is a constant struggle for most / all of us. On Ash Wednesday, the significance of placing ashes on our forehead, in the form of a cross, is a reminder that we are dust and will return to dust. It is also a brutal reminder how fickle we can be in life. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (a symbol of humility, not pomp and might), the people waved palm branches and excitedly shouted, “Hosana, Son of David … you are the best!” Some four days later, many of the same crowd were shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him!” The good news of the story is that “out of the ashes” (death) comes the new life of Resurrection. We have so much to live for – in this life now – which can also serve as a taste of eternal life. As we read in Psalm 42: 1-2: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I come and behold the face of God? … when we experience a METANOIA in our faith journey, when we turn our face, and behold the face of God.
The Eucharist is our greatest prayer, and in itself it is a call to repentance and healing. Therefore, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we open our hearts to be touched by God’s love, so that we truly become the Body of Christ … to live the gift of metanoia.
May you be encouraged by the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Your good deeds may be the only sermon some people will hear today”.
Blessings to you, and all your family. Peace.
Fr. Mike Dechant OMI