I have never gotten used to the streets in the American city where my parents moved when I was an adult. The constant development in the area makes me feel like each visit is to a new place. Whenever I go anywhere on my own, I always use a GPS. As hard as I try to follow the good directions I am given by the GPS, my parents live in a place where there are lots of fancy bridges and overpasses. I usually miss a turn and inevitably go the wrong way. Occasionally, I am convinced I know the correct way and ignore the GPS and head off on my own route.
The thing I love about GPS is that it never gets mad at you. If I were driving with my father and made the wrong turn, he would ask me why I ignored him and give me a big lecture about how I should have done what he had told me. If I continued to go my own way, he would become even insistent in his directions. No matter what I do and how many wrong turns I make, the GPS always has the same gentle response: "re-calculating." Even if I have veered entirely off the path, I still get the same response.
It occurs to me that this is a beautiful image for what Pope Francis would like us to learn about God in this Year of Mercy. Pope Francis is emphasizing that God's mercy is constant and always available to us. No matter how far we stray from God, each time we turn to him, He gently lets us know He wants us to be saved and know His love for us. God never wishes to condemn us. No matter how far from God we have strayed, no matter how long we have ignored Him, the only thing God desires to do for us is "re-calculate" our route back to him. This can be done through the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by conversion and by leaving the wrong path that we have found ourselves moving down and returning to the path that leads to God. The only thing that God desires is that we might be saved. In fact, perhaps we could say that mercy is God's GPS. In this case GPS stands for "God's Plan of Salvation" for us all and mercy is the manner by which God is constantly "re-calculating" how we can find our way back to him from wherever we may find ourselves.
As beautiful as this image is, there is one piece of information that is absolutely essential for making a GPS effective: a destination. Without a destination, the GPS cannot help me "calculate" or "re-calculate" the route I need to take. This reality is also true in our relationship with God. God does not offer His mercy to give us permission to do whatever we wish and remain lost. Mercy is offered as a roadmap back to God. Throughout the scriptures, Jesus forgives every person who approaches Him asking for forgiveness. Whether the person is a tax collector, a prostitute, a Pharisee or a thief, Jesus always forgives and welcomes them back into His company. However, this forgiveness is always accompanied with one very important line: line: "Go and sin no more." Unless Jesus and His teaching are the destination that is sought, mercy cannot bring us to the destination for which it is offered.
The challenge which this Jubilee Year of Mercy presents to discipleship is well presented in the Gospel readings of January 24 and 31. Last Sunday, we heard the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus picked up the scroll from the Prophet Isaiah and announced the Good News, which marked the beginning of a Jubilee Year for the people of Israel. Jesus announced that He had come to bring Good News to God's people. He proclaimed: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of the Lord's favour." This is the announcement of a Jubilee Year in which the people are to find the freedom to follow God, no matter who they are.
This Sunday we hear their response to this Good News. The people look at Jesus and ask who He is to invite them to follow Him. He is the son of Joseph and grew up in their hometown. Why should they follow Him? As a result, He was unable to do any good works in His town. They were excited to hear about the Good News, but when they heard that they had to follow Him and accept His offer of salvation, they were not interested in leaving the comfort of their lives.
In this Year of Mercy, it is important that we do not fall into the same trap as those who heard Jesus speak the Good News but did not want to follow Him. Jesus offers His mercy so that we might become His disciples. Mercy is the road to discipleship. If we are not interested in discipleship, God's mercy can do nothing for us. We find ourselves in the same situation as those in today's Gospel: The Good News is proclaimed, the road to salvation is pointed out to us, yet we refuse to leave the comfort of our lives— we refuse the invitation to discipleship. If we don't follow the gentle voice of God's GPS, we can become as lost in our spiritual journey as I am while visiting my parents.
During this Year of Mercy, the Church wishes to remind us that Jesus extends an invitation to every single human being to find salvation in Him. May we all be granted the grace this year to accept His mercy and to follow Jesus in discipleship.
Fr. Michael McGourty is the Pastor of St. Peter's Parish, Toronto