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Bible Reflections View Comments

Why Do We Search for What's Lost?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013
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I hate losing things. Not big things, although those losses carry their own heartache. No, I hate losing little, insignificant things: a favorite pen, a book that I read long ago and suddenly thought of again, a particular item of clothing that I may or may not have given to Goodwill. I will tear the house apart looking for the lost item. I will obsess about it until I find it—or have to admit defeat. More often than not, I find it after I stop looking.

The interesting thing about this quirk of mine is that I can see a bit of it in the parables in today’s Gospel. They each focus on a search for what’s lost, and the energy of the search is far greater than the thing being sought would seem to warrant.

The woman sweeping her house and going over every inch of it with a lamp for a small coin probably wasted far more oil for her lamp than the coin was worth. Certainly what she spent on the party far outweighed the discovery.

Commentators often point out the absurdity of the shepherd exposing an entire flock of sheep to the dangers of the wilderness in order to search for one lost lamb that may already have become a meal for a wolf. The wastrel younger son in the longer story certainly seems like no real loss to a responsible and upstanding family.

The very insignificance of these lost things is what Jesus wants to emphasize. Some of the Pharisees and scribes have criticized him for associating with sinners. To their eyes, these people aren’t worth a second glance, let alone the time and attention Jesus gives them. They have time only for important things and the right sort of people.

We might say that they have their priorities straight. But we would be wrong, at least from God’s perspective. They’re judging others based on surface realities alone. And they’re seeing those people as separate from themselves, separate from God.

Jesus reminds us that people are important not because of who they are or what they do, but because of their relationship to God.

This is usually what happens when I’m obsessing about something that I’ve lost. It’s usually something attached to a memory, to a friend, to something that matters to me but is only incidentally attached to a particular object. And I forget that I’ve lost only the object, not the memory or the relationship itself. Last December I looked high and low for a plush Santa that I’d had since childhood, knowing all the time that what I was really searching for was a connection to my mom, who had died in October.

In the reading from Exodus, the aftermath of the golden calf episode, Moses reminds the Lord that these people who have strayed are nevertheless the heirs to the covenant God made with Abraham and renewed at Sinai. It’s not because of their virtue, their good behavior, their status. It’s the inherent worth they have as people created and redeemed by a loving and merciful God.

In the end, then, our lives are about our relationship with God and with one another. This is why when we’re lost, our God seeks us out. This is why when our own key relationships falter, we move heaven and earth to reconcile. We are one, and that unity is broken if any part is missing.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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