A New Direction
I was flying to Fredericton, New Brunswick from Halifax, Nova Scotia – a brief commuter flight on a small propeller aircraft. There was only one seat on each side of the plane for each row, and there was no door separating the cockpit from the rest of the plane; from where I sat in the front row of the right side of the plane, I could see through the cockpit window!
It was a beautiful sunny evening to fly. I nervously watched the take-off through the window, since I am not a lover of heights. We went up into a blue sky, and really there was little else to see. The landing was a different story.
As we approached Fredericton, there was a spectacular sunset. It was an eye-opener for me, for I could appreciate why someone would want to fly a plane. It was simply mesmerizing and exhilarating. As we came closer to the airport, things got more interesting.
Although it wasn’t that windy, the little plane felt every gust. I could watch the approach to the runway, and with each bump in the ride of the plane I could see how the view of the runway would disappear. The pilot would right the plane and adjust its course, so that the runway could be seen again. Sometimes we would veer up, sometimes down, sometimes to the right, and sometimes to the left. And with each bump, the runway view was pretty well entirely lost to my view!
Yet I knew that the pilot knew where he was going, and that we would land in the right place. He would adjust the plane so that the runway was the goal. It was a beautiful landing on a beautiful evening, and I had a memory of flying, and of the sky that I will never forget. Indeed, flying for me changed forever.
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1: 14-15)
Yet our sins have been forgiven, past, present and future. If I reflect and repent, is that not good enough? Those of us who feel as if we are on the right track, who might slip up once in a while but are nice, might not feel much need to repent. After all, we’re good people. I believe in the gospel, but I suppose anyone could always do better. This call to “repent” is a call to metanoia, a transformational change of heart, a radical spiritual conversion. Do I really need that, or more importantly, do I really want that?
A couple of years after St. Bonaventure’s College opened as a “Roman Catholic School in the Jesuit Tradition” 19 years ago, I walked into the office of our president and principal, Fr. Winston Rye SJ, declaring “Fr. Rye, I’d like to do those Spiritual Exercises.” He said, “You do? Why?” “Well,” I answered, “if I’m going to be the chair of a Roman Catholic School in the Jesuit Tradition, I’d better do those exercises and know what they’re about. If anyone should do them, it should be the chair.” The call to duty far outweighed my curiosity.
Without any hesitation, I remember him pulling out a file, giving me a little pamphlet on how to pray, and the first few sheets of readings to do. He tried to explain what they were about, and I tried to look as if I fully understood, and I went off on my merry way, feeling happy that I would do these exercises, and I would be doing my due diligence as the chair of this new Jesuit school.
And within the first few weeks of my 18-month long trek of Annotation 19, I realized that my outlook on life had just changed forever. I did the Exercises again in 2012 with Fr. Len Altilia, SJ, but this time as a facilitator as well as a participant, and a good part of my group still pray together regularly. I use the Exercises as the basis for teaching Children’s Liturgy, and my daily Examen guides me.
Metanoia, though defined as the occurrence of conversion, is not a single event, but a change to a new direction, a journey. It means traveling in a direction away from sinfulness, from meaninglessness, from insignificance and harmfulness of actions; the new direction is turning towards God, whether that is a return to God, or a renewal, directing one’s future in God’s direction. In Pope Benedict XIV’s words, metanoia is “a process that affects one’s whole life and affects life wholly, that is definitively, in the totality of its temporal extent, and that means far more than just one single or even a repeated act of thinking, feeling, or willing.”
Metanoia is the life altering experience of fishermen who left their nets, a tax collector who climbed a tree to discover the Son of Man who then had dinner with him, a Pharisee, first blinded on the way to Damascus by his lack of vision, only to have it restored to a new way.
Ordinary people affected in extraordinary ways, their lives changed forever. Benedict points out that Christian metanoia is a willingness to change no matter what the consequences are, no matter what others might think, no matter if it means entirely changing one’s life. The perspective of life’s journey is permanently changed.
Metanoia is both an exciting and a frightening prospect. The decision to “repent”, to convert, to direct oneself, is a big commitment. The only question is, when that time comes when you finally understand the truth that will set you free, how can you ever change back? Foe me it has been just like seeing the sunset through the cockpit window. It can’t ever be the same, and there is no turning back.
How can anyone turn away from the promise in Isaiah fulfilled?
“Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you,
in a day of salvation I have helped you…
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his afflicted.”
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her sucking child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.”
And now I can’t forget either.