Change of Heart to Follow Jesus More Closely
BOOK PICK: ‘Living Metanoia’
Finding Freedom and
Fulfillment in Christ
By Father Dave Pivonka, TOR
Our Sunday Visitor, 2021
136 pages, $18.95
To order: Amazon.com
The word metanoia is one of those beautiful Greek words inadequately defined by any single word in English. I have seen metanoia translated as “repentance,” “conversion,” “change of heart” and “change of direction.” All of these are correct, but incomplete.
Father Dave Pivonka, president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, is deeply familiar with the concept of metanoia. Father Pivonka is a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular (TOR), and the primary charism of the order is metanoia. For a religious community, a charism is a lived, daily reality that animates everything the members do.
They know firsthand that metanoia is not a “one-time thing.” Rather, it is a way of life that acknowledges the need for daily repentance and ongoing transformation in Christ.
This makes so much sense to Christians striving to walk with Jesus after an initial conversion experience. Sometimes our first encounter with the love of God and the saving death and resurrection of Jesus is enough to carry us for weeks or months — maybe years. For a new convert having a Transfiguration experience on Mount Tabor, the first experience of backsliding or falling into serious sin is a rude awakening. That’s when the strength of our initial conversion is tested. That’s when we realize, as Father Pivonka writes, “that metanoia is not a singular event. We don’t really ‘do’ metanoia; rather, we ‘live’ metanoia. It is a way of approaching the kingdom of God, a way of following Jesus and walking toward salvation. We are not only converted once but are called to a life of conversion.”
In this book, Father Pivonka discusses various areas of our lives that are often in need of examination, correction and redirection.
“Metanoia is an all-encompassing proposition,” writes Father Pivonka. “We don’t simply need conversion in one area of our life, but we need conversion in the way we think, believe, behave, and love.”
For example, Chapter 1, “Who Do You Say I Am?” invites the reader to discover where he or she has an inaccurate image of who God is. Chapter 2 dares us to ask the question, “What Must I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?” — and be willing to act on Jesus’ reply, not just “go away sad,” like the Rich Young Man who famously asked that very question and got an answer he didn’t like. Other chapters cover the paradoxes of dying to self in order to rise to new life in and with Jesus and that becoming aware of our sinfulness is not a manifestation of the proverbial “Catholic guilt,” but a grace from God — a stop sign giving us the opportunity to turn around.
In the chapter on the “hard sayings” of Jesus, Father Pivonka dispels the illusory image of Jesus as a feel-good motivational speaker whose primary task was and is to affirm people’s choices. On the contrary, Father Pivonka asserts that this is an area where many believing Christians still need conversion.
“The things Jesus said and did bothered, angered, challenged, and frustrated so many people that they ultimately orchestrated having him killed,” explains Father Pivonka. And, yet, “many people believe that Jesus wouldn’t ask things of us that are incredibly difficult, and that obedience shouldn’t come with great cost.”
That means we can trust him and, by extension, we can trust the Church that he founded and continues to guide, even when the Church remains stubbornly countercultural. We’ve seen the results of rebellion against Church teachings, and it’s not good.
Like Jesus, the Church stills bucks other cultural trends outside the realm of sexuality, such as the admonition to love our enemies and forgive those who have wronged us.
Father Pivonka’s book is a richly annotated “examination of conscience” but in a more general sense.
Overall, it is about Christ. Father Pivonka underscores: “Everything Jesus said was always ordered to our good.”
Metanoia DVD series hosted by Father Pivonka; EWTNRC.com or (800) 854-6316