Navigation Apps and Repentance: Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent – Year C

Google Maps Rome

One of the most useful apps on a smart phone
is the Maps app.
You type in an address of the place you want to go
and you’re instantly given not only written directions for how to get there,
but you also get a map that shows
a path for how to get to your destination.

You don’t even have to know the name or even the address
of a place you’re trying to get to.
You can simply type in “food near me” or “shopping near me.”
and you’ll get a list of places you’re looking for
along with directions for how to get there.

If you’re walking,
you can tap the little icon of the person
and you’ll get walking directions.
If you’re driving,
you can tap on the car icon and you’ll get driving directions.
If you want to take public transportation,
the apps will even tell you which bus routes to take.

You can also label places that you visit frequently
to make it easier to get directions.
For instance, you can type in your home address
and give it a label, “Home,”
so that no matter where are you are,
you can always type the word “Home” in the search bar
and you will get directions for how to get home.

These apps even tell you which direction you’re facing,
so that if you have walking directions,
you just turn yourself around and watch the little arrow on your phone
until it points you at the little blue dots on the map
and you can tell which way to start walking.

I’ve been thinking about these kinds of apps lately
because I think they can help us understand the work of Lent.

As we heard in the gospel again today, Lent is a time of repentance.
Jesus says twice,
“If you do not repent you will all perish.”
We heard that word on Ash Wednesday, too:
“Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Repentance is a word we hear over and over during Lent,
but is often only partially understood.

Often when we hear the word “repent”
the first thing that comes to mind
is how we ought to recall all the sinful things that we’ve done
and feel remorse or regret for having done them.
We might repent over the way we gossip,
or, we might repent over losing our temper and yelling at our children,
or we might ignore someone who is in need.
We often think of repentance as an effort to feel more and more guilty
over what we have done or failed to do.

Remorse and regret are certainly a part of what it means to repent,
but there is much more to this important word.

The word “repent” is a translation of the word metanoia,
the Greek word that means “change your heart.”
At its root, repentance is a change of heart,
a change of direction,
a turning of one’s life from rebellion
to obedience towards God.
That’s the message of Jesus, his very first message in fact:
“Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.”
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Repentance is not a state of being
but is an active movement of the will and of the heart away from sin.

We remember that sin is a turning away from God.
Every time we lie, or cheat, or gossip,
we turn a little further away from God.
Sometimes our sins turn us completely away from God,
and we put our backs to God and walk in the opposite direction.

It’s as if we are looking at the Maps app on our phone,
and God is in one direction,
and we can see that we are pointed in another direction.
And if we keep walking in the direction we’re pointed,
we’re going to walk further and further away from God.

Repentance means re-orienting ourselves towards God.
Now, we might stop and consider our sins and feel remorse,
but at some point we need to turn ourselves around
and start walking back to God.
That is repentance, that is metanoia,
to change our hearts,
change our direction.

And wouldn’t it be great if we had something like Google Maps
for our spiritual lives, for spiritual navigation,
like a spiritual GPS?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could open up Maps on our phone,
type in “God,”
and get a list of directions for how to get back to God?

God, after all, is our true home,
heaven is our true home.
What if we could type “Home” into our phones,
and get directions for how to return to God?

Instead of directions like,
“Turn east on 29th Avenue towards Freya, .3 miles”
we might get directions like
“Turn off the TV and read the Gospel of Luke. 3 Chapters.”
Or instead of
“Continue on I-90 East, 18 miles,”
we might get,
“Continue praying with the children at dinner, 18 years.”
Those kinds of directions would lead us closer to our true Home.

Each of us is in a different spiritual place,
and so each of our paths to God is different.
If we could get navigation to God on our phones,
what would directions would each of us get?
What is the one thing you could change in your heart today
that would re-orient you toward God?
In other words, if you could type “God” or “heaven”
as a destination in your smart phone,
what is the first direction you would get?
What path would you need to turn away from,
and what path would you need to begin following?

Lent is the time to ask ourselves,
“How do I get back home?”
That’s why we fast, pray, and give alms.
The things we give up and the things we add to our lives
are intended to turn us around and put us on the right road.

Sometimes we or someone we love
is so far away from our true home
that we don’t know if we can ever return,
and we can’t even see the first step we should take.
We not only facing the wrong direction,
but maybe we’ve been going in that wrong direction for a long time,
and we’re far, far from home.

A few weeks ago, some of our family and I had the chance
to go visit our daughter Tessa in Italy
where she is studying abroad for the semester.
When we were there, Google Maps came in really handy
as we tried to find our way around Florence and Rome.

At one point I was searching for some destination in Rome,
I don’t remember what it was, but it must have begun with the letter “H”
because “Home” showed up in the search bar.
Just for fun I tapped on it to see what directions it would give.
The answer I got was both eye-opening and sad.
When I searched for directions home, Google Maps said,
“Can’t find a way there. Try again.”

We were so far away from home
that Google Maps couldn’t find a way for us to get back.
We couldn’t walk, and there were no cars or buses we could take.
There was an ocean between us and our home.

The same thing can happen in our spiritual lives.
We can get so far from our spiritual home
that we can’t find our way back.
Or we fear that our family and friends have drifted so far away,
that they can’t find their way.
But the scripture readings today offer us hope in two different ways.

First, they remind us that God is patient with us.
God is the gardener who tells the owner not to cut down the fig tree,
even though it’s not bearing fruit.
“It may bear fruit in the future,” he says.
God is patient with us.

And second, no matter how far away we are, God can bring us back.
Oceans and mountains and even isolated islands
are no barriers to God.
We can never get so far from God
that he cannot find a way for us to return.
In fact, the reality is that God comes after us when we turn away.

God tells Moses that he has come down to rescue his people
and lead them out of the land of slavery
into a good and spacious land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
He has come down to lead them Home.
He has come down to lead us Home.

Lent is the time to repent,
to change our hearts and change our direction,
to orient ourselves to our true home.

There is no app to help us find our spiritual way,
there is something greater:
Jesus Christ,
the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, a Roman Catholic deacon and a Catholic school principal. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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