February 03, 2020

Repent and Believe: The Call to Metanoia

By Father Dave Pivonka, TOR *
Caravaggio's 'Conversion on the Way to Damascus' (1601).
Caravaggio's 'Conversion on the Way to Damascus' (1601).

“This is the time of fulfillment.”

Those are the first words Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel of Mark. For 14 verses, he says nothing. He meets John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, and he faces temptation in the wilderness. But through it all, he doesn’t say a word. Then, finally, Jesus speaks: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

The temptation, for most of us, is to hear those words in the past tense. We hear them as something Jesus said long ago to Jewish people in Roman-occupied Galilee.

But that’s not how the Scriptures work. They’re not simply a record of things that were said 2,000 years ago. They’re not a collection of history books like we find at our local library. They are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

This means Scripture speaks to us today. Jesus speaks to us today. Right here. Right now. This is the time of fulfillment. This is the time Jesus invites us to know him and follow him and encounter the Kingdom of Heaven. But he doesn’t just invite us. In Mark 1:15, he also tells us how we answer that invitation: “Repent, and believe.”

The Greek word used there for “repent and believe” is metanoia. It implies a turning or a change of mind. So, what Jesus says is, “Turn away from sin, and turn toward me. Change your focus—from sin, from the world, from a culture of distraction—and focus on me instead.” Ultimately, he issues a call to conversion, a call to a new way of thinking and a new way of living. And he issues that call, not just to Peter, James, John, and the rest of the 12, but to you and me.

Which means the question for us is: how do we answer that call? How, here and now, do we repent and believe? How do we experience metanoia?

Last year, the team from 4PM Media and I attempted to answer that question, when we spent 17 days in the Holy Land, filming Metanoia, a new 10-part video series on conversion and discipleship.

But the trip turned out to be much more than that.

Shot on location in some of our faith’s most sacred places, including the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan, and the desert of temptations, Metanoia invites viewers to an encounter with Christ in both Scripture and history. It also invites each of us to look deep into our hearts, so we can hear how Christ is calling us to conversion.

For many Catholics, it’s tempting to think of conversion as a once and done event. It’s equally tempting to think of it as something other people need: that Jesus is calling other people to repent and believe—“those bishops and priests” or “those people who are in serious sin”—but not us. No, we think, it’s those people who need conversion. Never us. But in reality, it is always us.

Every one of us struggles in some way to live the Gospel. Every one of us has some area of our life that we have not handed over to Jesus. Every one of us, to some extent, bears some responsibility for the problems in the Church and world today.

That’s why conversion is a process each and every one of us must continually enter into. It’s a lifelong journey of being transformed by Christ and conformed to Christ. It’s never done. At least, not until we see Jesus face to face and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

And so, over the course of 10 weeks, Metanoia will invite Catholics to become the witness the world needs us to be and the disciples Jesus calls us to be. It does that by asking us to look at different areas of our life and faith—from our understanding of who Christ is and what it means to pray, to how we approach the Church’s more challenging teachings. It then invites us to think and pray about how Jesus calls us to conversion in those areas.

The whole series is really one big invitation to let God into every aspect of our life and transform it all.

Metanoia launches on Monday, February 3. Episodes will be available to watch at wildgoose.tv. I hope you join us. Because this is the time of fulfillment. Jesus is here. He has something for us right now. But we will never experience it if we don’t repent and believe. We will never experience it without metanoia.

Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, a well-known speaker and author, became the seventh president of Franciscan University of Steubenville in May 2019.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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