Metanoia: The Challenge of Lent

As we prepare ourselves for the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday, February 18), we might consider a Greek word that resonates during the season: metanoia. Just the sound of it is challenging and commands our attention. Literally, the word means “to change one’s mind.” In our Christian tradition it has come to be connected with repentance and more importantly, to conversion. But perhaps the online Merriam Webster dictionary defines it most beautifully: metanoia- a transformative change of heart. To Catholic stewards, that phrase perfectly defines our yearning during Lent. We yearn to be transformed by a change of heart.

Perhaps our Lenten resolve shouldn’t be limited to the usual small sacrifices or token pieties, but to a deep commitment to a daily prayer that asks for the courage to be transformed by a change of heart.

 

Actually, that kind of change can be a scary proposition. It sounds risky. It’s certainly life-changing. If metanoia actually took place within us, if we allowed that kind of heart-based transformation into our lives, would our lives be different?

On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 11) the Gospel reading revealed to us that Jesus walked down to the Jordan River and asked John the Baptist to baptize him. There were two men, utterly transformed. John would call others to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus would be led by the Holy Spirit into the desert before embarking on a ministry that proclaimed the Kingdom of God. John would be beheaded for his ministry; Jesus would be crucified.

Are we ready to be transformed during this Lenten season? Yes, we want to be good during Lent, attend extra Masses, lay off the chocolate, make sure the family attends Holy Week liturgies. But metanoia?

Perhaps the online Merriam Webster dictionary defines it most beautifully: metanoia- a transformative change of heart.

 

Transformation alters us, opens our hearts in radical ways. We witness it in the doctor who travels to Sierra Leone to take care of Ebola patients during his vacation time; in the couple who adopted, with very little time for discernment, three kids who had been orphaned and needed to be kept together; in the family that makes a decision to tithe despite their financial worries. Transformation requires courage. It is not a thing casually approached.

Perhaps our Lenten resolve shouldn’t be limited to the usual small sacrifices or token pieties, but to a deep commitment to a daily prayer that asks for the courage to be transformed by a change of heart. Let this simple prayer suffuse our Lent: “Even if it takes time, Lord, make me smaller in the world, bigger in the kingdom.” Metanoia – let us rise to the challenge of the Christ who beckons us to follow him this Lent into the desert.

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