You Have Been Found
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

What struck me initially about these readings was the first line of the first reading from Zephaniah: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger”. He’s not addressing the arrogant who have not observed his law, but the humble who have observed his law. He’s exhorting the humble to seek humility.

But if they are humble already, why exhort them to seek humility? If they have been observing his laws, why tell them to seek the Lord? I think the reason is that in order that a person might begin seeking the Lord, it is first necessary that he be found. This is the reverse order of the game hide and seek; in a normal game of hide and seek, one starts by seeking out those who are hidden, and the game ends when you find them. But here, one has to be found first, and then one is able to go seeking. Who do you seek? The One who found you; if He did not find you, you could not go looking for Him.

If a person is genuinely looking for God, that searching is already a gift from God, a grace. Zephaniah is addressing those who are humble and who have observed His law, and their humility and observance of His law is pure gift. It is the gift of “being found by God”. God has found you, He has chosen you. Not because of anything in you, but solely as a sheer gift.

Now, it is our task to seek humility, to plunge more deeply into that virtue and to seek His will, His law, and allow that law to mould us more fully to His image.

You have been found by God, and that is the greatest gift that you have. In other words, your faith is the greatest gift that God has given you. That simple, humble decision to believe in what God has revealed about Himself through the history of Israel and finally through the Person of Christ, is a decision you made only because God enabled you to make that decision, He gave you the grace to believe; He gave you the gift of faith.

It is a real mystery why some people have it and some people do not. I remember my first philosophy professor, Father Claire Girodat, said to me while discussing aspects of the mystery of divine grace: “If we don’t make it to heaven, it is our fault; but if we do make it to heaven, it’s God’s fault”. It’s all His doing, and it is very mysterious.

The bottom line is, faith is His gift, and it is the first greatest gift we have been given. We might be recipients of the Order of Canada, we might have achieved all sorts of things that few Canadians will ever achieve, but the only thing that will get us into the Kingdom of Heaven, after we are dead and buried, is that grace of faith. At the moment of death, nothing else matters. All our accomplishments will be forgotten by the world, but the only thing that the Lord looks upon with favour is a humble and contrite heart that is alive with faith. Without it, our life is a complete failure.

There is nothing more important than keeping that faith alive and burning in the heart; and faith cannot live within a heart that is cooled by arrogance, pride, and self-love. What cools the heart, rendering it hard to the touch, is the pride that decides to make one’s own will a law unto itself, a pride which then chooses not to believe, because what is proposed for us to believe does not quite fit into what we want. At the beginning of that first reading, Zephaniah said: “Seek the Lord, you who have observed his law”, and not “Seek the Lord, you who are not observing his law”. Why? Because those not observing his law have ears, but they cannot hear; the Lord has to have found you before you are able to hear.

What is horribly frightening is the prospect that a person who has been found by the Lord, and who has ears to hear and a heart that can understand, turns his back and walks away from the Law of the Lord. Such a one will soon be lost, because when we walk away from the light of His law and into the darkness, we are soon unable to find our way back, because we can’t see in the dark. And that all begins when we make those subtle decisions to do things our way; for there is a part of the divine law that is not quite to our liking, and today, that very often has to do with something sexual, or something having to do with the flesh. Such a person reveals that he loves his own will more than he loves the will of God.

That’s a frightening prospect, because a heart cooled by pride and self-love will eventually, in time, snuff out the embers that still burn in the heart that has lost its flame, and so the fire cannot be fanned into life once again. When there is no living flame that burns in the heart that lights up our own interior life and no embers to resurrect it, we live in darkness, and our life becomes exclusively outward oriented, always on the search for newer and more exhilarating experiences, because every new experience eventually becomes old, and when things get old, all we are left with is our own dark and empty interior, because we have allowed that interior flame of divine light to die out in the heart.

The Lord calls us in today’s readings to seek humility. The word is from the Latin humous which means soil, or dirt. If you’ve been to a hospital recently, in every corridor you will have noticed a hamper with the words “soiled laundry”. We know what it means to soil, I don’t have to use the slang. But that’s what we are fundamentally. We are from the earth, and we are going to return to the earth, and a most fundamental human truth is that there is nothing in us for us to take pride in. Pride is a ridiculous quality.

We are the highest beings on the hierarchy of beings in the physical universe (higher than plants and animals), but we are the lowest beings on the hierarchy of God’s intellectual creatures. The angels are inconceivably more intelligent than we are. The human intellect is weighed down by the limits of sensation, memory, and time. Not so the mind of an angel. We are slow to learn, and we are weak, often overcome by passion, blinded by the emotions of fear or inordinate desire. And when we look back on our own life, we often shake our head at what we were—at least I do—, at our ignorance and stupidity. That will only continue, so that at the end of our life, when our life flashes before us, we’ll look at all that we were and we will shake our heads in disbelief and relative disappointment. The good news is there are two sides to this vision. We will behold what we were in and of ourselves, and what we are as a result of the Lord’s grace. The joy will not be in our accomplishments and achievements; that will be a source of sorrow—that we haven’t loved God and others enough. Our joy will be in what the Lord has done in us. The fact that we persisted till the end in faith will be a source of incalculable joy. But we will know that our perseverance was itself also a gift from God. This glance back will be very much like looking back over a huge canyon that we just crossed on a frail wooden makeshift bridge, and we’ll be struck by the horrifying realization that it was so easy for us to have fallen and that we should have fallen off that bridge many times, to our death, but were held up by the sheer mercy of God.

So the important thing is to recognize what it is we have, what it is we’ve been given, that there is nothing greater than the gift of faith. Our task now is to seek the Lord, to become more deeply poor in spirit, to recognize our utter need for God and go looking for Him who has found us, to recognize our own nothingness and learn to delight in the fact that there is nothing in us that is from ourselves that we can be proud of, that everything we take pride in is an illusion. Once that begins to happen, we’ll begin to take delight in the fact that we have been found by God. Our joy will be in Him, and our only desire, without any admixture of self-love, will be to see that He is loved and praised and adored. The greater and more pure that desire grows within us, the greater will be our capacity for the joy of heaven.