In the first chapter of Mark, at the start of Christ’s ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God, we read:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mk 1:15). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
The word “repent” in Greek is metanoia – meta meaning beyond, and nous (noia) being one’s mind. So repentance means a change of heart, a “going beyond” one’s current ways of thinking, a new direction in one’s life, a new birth. We experience an initial grace of repentance when we first become Christian, but our whole life should be repentance after repentance, as we transcend all the old ways of thought and being that once preoccupied us.
What does it mean in practice to go beyond one’s old ways of thought? Is it merely a matter of “believing” some new set of propositions? No – we need to become possessed by the Spirit of Truth, which is much more than just an intellectual exercise. We can “think” that we should love our neighbor, yet every chance we get, we gossip about and slander them. We can “think” that God the Father loves us dearly, yet we walk around in life fearful and seeking comfort in worldly things. The truth of the Gospel needs to penetrate every part of our being. “Facts” about the Kingdom are not Truths which we now embody. We need to become other Christ’s who don’t merely understand facts but are the truth.
This new creation that we must become is an act of merciful grace on God’s behalf. But if coming to know the truth is God’s grace, then grace must also be an illumination, an increased level of consciousness, a new awareness of God, ourselves, and the world around us. However, it also requires our patient cooperation. This brings me to a passage from the diaries of Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta, which reveals her understanding of a revelation from Jesus about this topic:
A light came out of Blessed Jesus, which made me comprehend the way in which he communicates grace […] Now, as the soul experiences such things, God communicates his grace, the grace of truth, in such a way that the soul can see the truth in everything without deceit, without darkness. And here is how, what God is by nature – eternal truth which cannot deceive nor be deceived – the soul becomes by grace.
That is to say, the soul feels detachment from the things of the earth: It perceives their fleetingness, their instability, how all that they offer is false and corruptible, which deserves to be abhorred rather than loved.Diary of Luisa Piccareta, Vol VII, February 28, 1906 – as presented on page 463 of the thesis “The gift of living in the Divine Will in the writings of Luisa Piccarreta” by Fr Joseph Leo Iannuzzi
Note how, in the above, God communicates His “grace of truth” which allows the soul to see everything as it truly is, without deceit or darkness. This is not just an intellectual understanding, however – it rather should be understood as an active illumination – an illumination that changes the person. It is a new level of awareness, of consciousness. Here is another interesting thing – this illumination leads quite naturally to detachment. By this new seeing of the emptiness of things, the soul naturally “feels detachment” from them. There is no mention of an arduous striving by willpower alone to obtain detachment, but rather detachment is achieved by the grace of truth, of illumination, of seeing clearly.
However, to obtain the active effects of this grace fully requires some work on our behalf. Again, from Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta:
While the soul experiences this state, God communicates his grace, the grace of true and eternal love […] I limit myself to adding that grace anticipates the soul, it arouses it, but only when the soul masticates and digests these truths, as the body consumes and digests food, does the grace communicated to them enter to take possession of the soul. This is why not everyone receives the effects described above, for some let such grace escape their minds like bright flashes, and they fail to make any room for it.Diary of Luisa Piccareta, Vol VII, February 28, 1906 – as presented on page 463 of the thesis “The gift of living in the Divine Will in the writings of Luisa Piccarreta” by Fr Joseph Leo Iannuzzi
We receive the grace of truth from God, but it is up to us to digest and masticate these truths. Mastication brings to mind what cattle do when they chew their food for hours on end. We, too, must take the time with the realities of the Kingdom, which, by grace, God lovingly shows us. Taking this time is a genuine process of metanoia, of repentance. We allow God’s truth to fill us and change us when we meditate on His Word.
These considerations highlight the importance of a regular practice of meditation, where we turn over the truths of God in our minds and hearts. But not only the revelations of God, but also the truths about ourselves, creation, and others in His light. We must spend time examining our reactions to the world around us and our various levels of resistance to the will of God, which in our ordinary, day-to-day lives, He presents to us. Our opposition to reality, His Will, reveals our attachments and our idols, those things which block us from a life of peace and rejoicing in God’s continual presence.
A hurried and harrassed life, the constant absorption of news and information, and a life of unchecked consumption are all barriers to both hearing and digesting Christ’s Truth, which he gracefully gives to those who ask of it. As St John the Evangelist told us, Christ is the light of the world who leads us, through the Spirit, to clear seeing, to illumination, and enlightenment. But we need to create the time and space to allow the profound truths of the Gospel to not just settle in our mind like dust on the surface of a bench, but rather seep into our heart and being so that we may “wake up” and truly understand.