Jessica Hayes first heard the term “consecrated virgin” while in college. Now, four years after…
A post-COVID world, and taking on the mind of Christ
There’s been a lot of discussion about what life in a “post-COVID” world will look like. Setting aside the question of whether we will ever truly be post-COVID, not just because of the demonstrated ability of the virus to mutate into new, more virulent strains but more importantly because of the unwillingness of a significant number of Americans to get vaccinated, the likelihood is that a post-COVID world will look a lot like a pre-COVID one.
We are creatures of habit, and even when circumstances disrupt those habits for some time, we tend to revert to form as soon as we can. Despite, for instance, the innumerable articles about the “lessons we’ve learned” from a year or more of remote or hybrid work, by this time next year, most people will probably be back in their offices, doing exactly what they did in February 2020. True change requires imagination and the will to carry it out. Whatever else Americans may be, no one has ever suggested that we, as a people, are overly imaginative, and we tend to be distracted too easily to stay on task. (Indeed, both 24-hour cable news and social media are built on the reality of our distractibility.)
It doesn’t have to be that way, and for us as Christians, it shouldn’t. The Christian life is about constant change — not change for change’s sake but the effort to become more like Christ, to conform ourselves to him, to begin with our end (as I’ve discussed in recent columns). The earliest Greek-speaking Christians had a word for that change: metanoia, literally to change one’s mind, to take on the mind of Christ.
Of course, “mind” (nous) had a broader meaning in Greek 2,000 years ago than it does in English today, where it has been reduced to the rational functions of the brain. The nous is that faculty through which we apprehend reality, not just through reason but intuitively. Christ, as a man who is also God, apprehends reality directly and correctly, so taking on the mind of Christ means to see the world as he sees it.
Metanoia also came to mean repentance or conversion, because if we have to change our mind to conform to the mind of Christ, we have clearly strayed from him. We have become eccentric, in the original meaning of the word — off kilter, our lives no longer centered on Christ.
Our distractions and lack of will make true metanoia hard, if not impossible. The Christian disciplines (literally, the actions that make one a disciple) of prayer and asceticism have metanoia as their goal. Removing those distractions by entering into conversation with God and training our will by shedding all that is truly ours (our anger, our gluttony, our envy, our pride) makes it possible for us to conform ourselves to Christ, to receive his grace, to see the world as he sees it, and to act accordingly.
As we emerge from our yearlong quarantine, the one thing that people say they have missed the most is the day-to-day in-person interaction with family and friends and coworkers. Before COVID, we generally took those relationships for granted. Too often distracted by the notifications on our phones or rushing to meetings or driving hither and yon to take the children to their extracurricular activities, we lost sight of those standing right there in front of us. We didn’t see them through the eyes of Christ but through minds turned inward, more concerned with ourselves than with them.
Having come to realize what we have lost, as COVID-19 wanes and life returns to “normal,” we have an opportunity to change the way we see and act toward others. And it’s an opportunity that aligns with what we’re meant to do as Christians: set aside the distractions, conform ourselves to Christ, and live for others as he lives for us.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.