It’s nearing February, which means many of our New Year’s resolutions may be dwindling in consistency. Statistics show that about 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% are actually successful in achieving their goals. In general, the purpose of this annual commitment is to overcome bad habits and become a better version of yourself. Of course, this should be our intention in each moment of everyday life, but a new year certainly does provide the sense of a clean slate.
In his new book “Living Metanoia,” Father Dave Pivonka helps readers understand that repentance and transformation are never just one and done, but rather are a lifelong process.
Father Pivonka is a Franciscan friar and the president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, his alma mater. An author, conference speaker and pilgrimage leader, Father Pivonka was ordained a priest in 1996.
In his book, he fleshes out the Greek definition of the word metanoia, a call which Jesus makes clear in the beginning of the Gospels: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Repentance is key, but the word that Jesus uses here for “repent” is actually “metanoia” and “the original Greek word means much more than just repentance. It means to change, to turn, to think differently,” as Father Pivonka explains. It means conversion, and this conversion doesn’t happen in an instant. He points out that a saint is only a saint because he or she saw the need for conversion not as a one time event, but as a way of life.
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Driving and training the body to stay the narrow path
As part of this lifelong process of conversion, it is helpful to identify and articulate what our relationship with Jesus looks like and to heal any false images that we might have of God the Father. Through naming who Jesus is in your life, and forming a healthy relationship with him, you will be better disposed to open up your heart to him. The beginning of this book poses thought-provoking questions including “Who do you say that Jesus is?”, “Is Jesus enough for you?” and “Can he satisfy your heart?”
After discovering who Jesus is for us, we must have an answer for what we must do to inherit eternal life. This might mean stepping out of the boat in trust and re-prioritizing our treasures in order to keep Christ first.
Of course, stepping out in faith isn’t easy. There is a reason why Peter started sinking when he started walking on the water toward Jesus. Our brothers and sisters who have gone before us have already set the example of embracing suffering. As St. Paul said: “I do not run aimlessly. … No, I drive my body and train it” (1 Cor 9:26-27). Thankfully for us, we have the Church to run along with us and cheer us on as we try to stay on the narrow path.
Mercy, intentionality and desire
Of course, staying on the narrow path may include a bit of wandering. When we do fall into temptation, it is helpful to recognize how this can impair our relationship with Jesus. Through understanding the gravity of our sin, we are more eager to be reconciled with him. God hopes that we will encounter him in a deeper way as we seek his mercy, and conversion requires a lot of reconciliation.
Conversion also requires intentionality in our prayer. We can tend to overcomplicate our prayer, but the most important thing when it comes to our time with Jesus, is that we come with a sincere heart. Father Pivonka quotes St. Josemaría Escrivá’s idea of prayer where he says: “Put yourselves in the presence of your Father and tell him this much at least: ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray. I can’t think of anything to tell you.’ You can be sure that at that very moment you have already begun to pray.” Prayer is simply seeking intimacy with him, and through consistency in prayer, we are better disposed to see how he is working in our life.
One might be surprised to find that experiencing intimacy with Christ can actually expand one’s heart to long for more. In Father Pivonka’s words, “God will satisfy the hunger of our hearts, but we will not be filled to the point of not wanting more.” He also quotes St. Augustine: “You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.” Because we are destined for life with Christ, it makes sense that our soul would not be completely fulfilled on this side of heaven.
A calling toward
Father Pivonka writes about how being chosen by Christ means “we are chosen from something into a life with Christ.” What do you think Jesus is calling you from, and in turn, calling you to? When bringing this to prayer, it is okay if you find yourself wrestling with what this might be. Even as his disciples said after the Bread of Life discourse: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). Metanoia requires both surrender, obedience and stepping out in faith, but we can follow Jesus’ lead and be comforted by the fact that even he wrestled with God’s will as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. But ultimately, he remained obedient and continued to surrender.
As we live metanoia this also calls us on to evangelization. In the final chapter of the book, Father Pivonka writes, “We are an evangelist for whatever we love.” This point made me ask myself: “Do I share about Jesus with the same enthusiasm that I share about my love for travel? Does my relationship with the Lord flow out into the world through loving words and actions?” This book has re-solidified for me that I must keep striving to live in a way that shows the reason for my hope.
What animates you? What have you received from the Lord? Maybe these are questions that you are still asking yourself, and that is okay, because metanoia is a lifelong process. It isn’t done in a day, and it won’t be done tomorrow, but we have a new chance to begin again with each new morning.