Sunday Reflection - From Paranoia to Metanoia

Gathering on this Third Sunday of the Advent Season with its traditional name of “Gaudete” or “Rejoicing” Sunday, we hear that familiar theme spoken of not only in our first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah, urging us to ‘shout for joy,’ but more importantly in our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians – ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again, rejoice.’  Well folks, no matter how many times we may say that word these days it is not going to magically dispel the understandable fear and paranoia that seems to be gripping our world and our society.  The specter of terrorist attacks the world over, like the most recent attack that shattered pre-Christmas festivities in the Strasbourg Christmas market, haunts so many of us since 9/11.  

That term, paranoia, is defined as ‘a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. The concern that grips our land is far from irrational.  Ever since the defining terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11 in our country, it is understandable that the specter of apprehension in the face of today’s present menace of fundamentalist jihadi terrorists is a present reality.  Any responsible nation concerned with the security and common good of its citizens does well to be appropriately responsive to such real threats.  This fear, however, becomes irrational and delusional – indeed paranoid – a word from the Greek that literally means, ‘out of one’s mind’ – when it becomes unhinged from reality.  When it becomes an obsessional reality fed by the often opportunistic ravings of the irresponsible.   

The Advent Season for us as Christians is a clarion call for each of us to replace paranoia with metanoia– the beautiful Greek term that means the conversion of our minds and hearts to the one who ultimately can calm all our fears with the transforming power of His hope and His promise.   

It was this reality that was at the heart of the preaching of the last and greatest of the Israelite prophets, John the Baptist.  Paranoia invariably has the tendency of causing those who are victimized by its irrationality to go inward – destructive voices are heard in one’s mind, everyone is out to get us, fear surrounds us at every corner.  Whereas, the message of metanoiaor conversion that John preached is a challenge to his hearers of every age to go out of oneself in order to truly find the meaning that gives all life value.  

“Whoever has two cloaks

should share with the person who has none.

And whoever has food should do likewise.” 

Metanoia – or a change of heart, is living a life that in many respects is counter to the exultation of the self and the narcissism that surrounds us daily.  Metanoia living is quite simply the essence of the Christian way of life that tells us that life will only truly be found if we are willing to give our lives away in service to others. 

The most profound example of this kind of living, will of course be found and celebrated in the mystery of the Incarnation for which these days of Advent prepare us.  For in the mystery of Christmas, the God who lives in unapproachable light, embraces our human nature, becomes like us in all things but sin, so that fear might be transformed by hope, loneliness by divine communion, death by the gift of eternal life in his unfailing and merciful love.  

As the great feast of Christmas approaches, may the gift and meaning of this feast truly touch the minds and hearts of so many who continue to live in the shadows of fear, so that its grace may indeed free and empower us with its hope and promise.