Metanoia of course means “spiritual conversion.” Dr. Tobias Nathe, Assistant Professor or Systematic and Moral Theology at the Athenaeum, led off last Saturday’s event with a talk on “Personal Conversion and the Catholic Faith” before ending with a spiritual exercise on the phenomenology of Heaven and Hell. While the exercise wouldn’t be adequately conveyed in a transcript, the more general talk on conversion would. Here below is the script from which Dr. Nathe addressed the crowd.
Metanoia. What does it mean? If you’ve read our flyer, you know it means “spiritual conversion, to change one’s mind, repent”. Now, I suspect most of you have gone through a metanoia of sorts in your life or you probably wouldn’t be here. You’ve turned your life over to Jesus and his bride, the Church—maybe a little, maybe a lot—or, maybe not at all; what do I know? In any case, our conversion experience is ongoing. We’re never going to be able to get enough of Jesus; we’re never going to be able to open the doors of our hearts wide enough to let him come in and love us and influence us in all the ways he wants to. So, here we are. We also may be here to get some ideas, perhaps, on how to help our loved ones come to metanoia, to conversion. Perhaps you’re wondering if there are some key components to a conversion experience that we can identify so as to help someone along the same narrow path to Heaven. We’ll be talking about this too.
My plan is for this to be more meditational and retreat-like than is to be a kind of informational lecture. I’ll give you three basic steps to conversion which we can discuss; please feel free to ask questions or comment as we go. After about 30-40 minutes of this, we’ll take a 10 minute break, and then we’ll come back for another session where I’ll lead you through a spiritual exercise on Heaven and Hell. This has been done for me and I’ve facilitated it a number of times, so I know it can be really impactful if you give it a chance.
First, let me set the stage. The Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BC) gave us one of the most famous and insightful accounts of metanoia in the 7th Book of the Republic. It’s often called the “allegory of the cave.” Some of you may have read it. In the allegory, a number of men have been shackled within a cave their whole lives, facing a wall. They’re bound by limbs but also by their necks, so they can’t turn around. The only experience of reality beyond the cave is of the images which get cast on the wall in front of them by puppeteers from behind: shadows of humans and animals, and the like. But, Plato asks, what if one day one of them were to be set free from the shackles around his neck and limbs and ascend out of the cave and into the light? Ascend to the light—both important images of conversion. Certainly it would be hard to make the ascent at first. The man would experience pain at letting go of his former illusions and way of life, but then he would be blown away. What is this new reality? Is it really real? Wonder would be sparked. After taking some time to adjust, because it indeed takes time to adjust to turning one’s life around, wouldn’t he want to share this profound experience with his cave companions? He would descend back into the darkness and try to convince them of this new, wondrous experience beyond the shadows and illusions that they’ve experienced their whole lives long. They wouldn’t believe him though. They would laugh at him and scoff. Finally, they would kill him—yes, Plato, some 400 years before Christ, predicts they would murder such a messenger of truth.
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