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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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