He had often said to me: I am not long for this world, and I had thought his words idle. Now I knew they were true. Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism. But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work.
This opening paragraph to James Joyce’s first published work, a series of short stories meant to be read in order, reminds me of Romans 12:2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)
This first short story in Dubliners paints a picture of a Catholic priest who is, at the conclusion of the story, found laughing in the middle of the night in the sanctuary. We are told he thought himself not of the world.
What I think Joyce might be doing is questioning some problems of the church. My understanding of Joyce is that had strong Catholic roots, but questioned and wavered most of his life. This idea that Christians are not of the world is a correct theological concept that is misunderstood. Joyce is questioning the misunderstood notion of this. He might be bothered that priests seem to not care about those outside the parish.
We are to be for the world, in the world, but not of the world. We are to be salt and light in the world, but not be corrupted by the ways of the flesh.
I think its interesting that Romans says to not be of the world, but be TRANSFORMED, and Joyce says that the priest is not of the world, and is interested with the word PARALYSIS. There is this antithesis of being static versus being changed.