Our son was two when we lost him. He didn’t pass away; we just literally lost track of him for a few brief and terrifying moments at the local library. You may be familiar with the scene: I thought my wife had him, and she thought I had him. He had wandered off, and we didn’t know where he was. Time stood still. Had he been abducted? Had he left through the automatic doors? Nothing else mattered in those moments but finding him. When we finally did find him – wandering around the magazine stacks – we felt like we had come back up from the ocean floor. We were able to breathe again; we had our life back.
I always think about this incident when I pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. For three days Mary and Joseph were without their Child – God – and did not know where He was. They rushed back to Jerusalem and found Him teaching in the Temple. In the 4th Century, St. Ambrose noted that “the discovery of Jesus in the Temple prefigures his Resurrection, when Christ will be three days absent in flesh, only to be found again in the flesh. The anxiety following his burial will likewise give way to joy and relief at his rising.”
We Wander Away From Him
The truth is not that our Lord and God wanders away from us, but that we wander away from Him. As a convert, I always think back to that time before I became Christian, before “salvation had come to [my] house” (Luke 19:9). My first Eucharist, at the age of 18, was an indescribable experience, as it is for many converts. We ache because we know the hunger for it during those years of spiritual famine. We ache to see others in the Communion line to receive the Lord and ourselves not yet permitted. Having tasted the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, it is painful to think that one could voluntarily separate himself from this union by way of mortal sin.
And yet so many Catholics take for granted that the Lord Jesus will always be around, that repentance is something for later. Many Catholics have no sense of urgency in reforming their lives or seeking His face. The Lord reminded His disciples of this very thing when He told them that “you will look for Me, but you will not find Me” (John 7:34), and this is our reminder too when we steep ourselves in sin and presumption. We get a reminder of this on Good Friday when the tabernacle is empty and, like Mary Magdalene, we lament: “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13).
Wanting Him as Much as Air
There is an intriguing story from the East that explains this dynamic well; it goes something like this:
“A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him: “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”
“Air!” answered the man.
“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.””
Urgent and Unconditional Love
The Great Commandment is to love the Lord God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds. Not part. Not some. All. And Jesus calls this the greatest Commandment, so it should have the greatest precedence in our lives. And yet how many of us can say that we have become “perfect as He is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)?
This urgency in seeking the Kingdom, this “fanaticism” as it might be perceived by the world, is a grace for which we should ask. It is worth everything. As the Lord says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). It is the Lord who gives life (Isaiah 42:5), and it is that source of life that we seek as drowning men crying out to be saved.
The Lord in His mercy makes it clear that when our hearts seek His face (Psalm 27:8), He in turn removes the barriers to seeing; for “eyes that see” are the gift of faith that comes by grace (Matthew 13:16). “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). He likens Himself to a spouse, a lover. We all know what it feels like to be “faint with love” (Song of Songs 2:5), particularly if one has been married for some time. That initial intoxication in the early years can fade over time. Our job in marriage is to remember and cherish that first love, especially when things get difficult. “Yet I hold this against you,” said the Lord to the church at Ephesus. “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:4-5).
The Power of Repentance
Repentance is the rediscovering of that lost love, that first love, the love that shone like a light in the darkness before it faded to embers. It is the antidote to pride, that wicked sin that puts the dove of humility and virtue to flight. It is in humility and confession of sins that we are reunited with the Lord after being lost in distant lands. It is the nest we build in our hearts where He can make a home.
Just as we lose sight of that first love in our marriages over the years and must continually work on renewal amidst the humdrum of ordinary life together, so we must always seek to cultivate that urgent work of returning to our first love with the Lord, to that time when we were acutely aware that we could not live without Him. As the drowning man seeks air, so we should continue to strive for holiness, for holiness is nothing short of union with God, our beloved. There we will find our Lord in the Temple, where He has been waiting for us all along.