Man by nature is a finder in search of many things. Some of these things have been lost and need to be recovered, like the lost sheep the good shepherd seeks or the lost coin the woman in the parable looks for everywhere.
Even without losing anything in particular, man often senses that he is missing something that he needs to discover to fulfill a desire and complete the heart’s yearning.
Young children look for friends to make their play fun-loving and adventurous. Young men and women who turn their minds to love and marriage hope to find the perfect person to be their helpmate who will be an answer to a prayer or a dream come true. Students at universities with a love of knowledge and wisdom pursue the truth and hope to find it in the course of their studies.
Likewise, all persons by nature desire happiness and seek to acquire the art of living well to enjoy an abundant life. This seeking presupposes the finding. Reality has correspondences that reveal the fitting nature of things.
No one seeks without some hope of finding.
An Attainable Goal
Man’s natural impulse to search indicates that the object of his desires exists and awaits discovery. Because thirst is experienced, water has reality; because cows need grass, pastures are there; because man and woman desire each other, love awaits them; because man by nature wants to know, truth exists; because all persons pursue human happiness, this goal is attainable.
This correspondence between man’s desires to find the missing elements in his life and the existence of these sources of fulfillment reflects a natural order based on hiding and seeking.
Just as children look for the hidden Easter eggs that are half-revealed and half-concealed, man’s deepest desires direct him also to pursue the precious treasures he needs to complete his life. God hides in the appearance of bread and wine so that man finds Him by faith.
The invisible things of God are known by the visible, as St. Paul teaches. Nature is, in Thomas Carlyle’s words, an “open secret,” that is, camouflaged, neither transparent and self-evident nor unfathomable and impenetrable. In the words of an ancient philosopher, “Nature is the first thing that is and the last thing we know.”
The seeking and finding are not too easy and not too hard. They represent the human condition, the drama and journey of life.
The Cost of an Effort
Although God knows what man needs before he asks, God desires man to seek it by an act of will and a pure intention. The exertion of effort reflects a heartfelt wish that originates in the depths of a person and moves him to do all in his power to find what he seeks. The will power, commitment, and patience to search for the missing coins naturally give the discovery supreme value (“For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also”).
Thus Christ teaches, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
This is neither magical incantation nor instant gratification, but the requirement of cooperation, determination, or perseverance in seeking—the prerequisite for finding what God the Father loves to give but at the cost of an effort.
The pearl of great price, the treasure, and the living water that Christ mentions as the objects of man’s deepest spiritual hunger represent special gifts specifically intended for man’s happiness, but they do not come by hocus-pocus or without a love for these precious jewels.
The good shepherd finding the lost sheep and the widow finding the lost coin persisted in their search. God, the giver of all good gifts, has these prizes in store awaiting man’s request, prayer, and industriousness as a sign of appreciation.
The End of Asking
In Augustine’s Confessions, St. Monica especially embodies this diligent seeking without discouragement or loss of will. Praying daily and ceaselessly for many years for Augustine’s conversion from Manichaeism to the Catholic Faith, she felt exasperated to the point that she implored a bishop’s intercession: “My mother asked this bishop to be so kind as to discuss things with me, to expose my mistakes, to unteach me what was bad. ”
The bishop, finding Augustine too prideful and fanatical for a rational discussion, refused the request. However, he still reassured Monica with his famous answer: “As you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears will perish”—an acknowledgment that all her prayers and efforts could never be spent in vain or go unheard.
Christ further explains the relationship between seeking and finding: “Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for fish, will give him a serpent?”
The end of asking is to receive and the end of seeking is to find. Even more than a human father, God the Father prepares the best gifts for His children and will “give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 6: 10-12), but they must give evidence of single-minded seeking.
In Hans Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the young girl Gerda seeks her beloved friend Kay who wanders to the land of the Snow Queen in the remote regions of the North far from their homes and the summer garden where they reveled in innocent play.
Gerda searches everywhere for her lost friend, from a witch’s cottage to a prince’s palace to a robber’s den. She travels long distances on sledges through the ice and cold. She never abandons the quest until she finally finds Kay and releases him from the spell of the Snow Queen.
A Finland woman explains the secret of her finding, an answer that resembles the bishop’s answer to Monica: “Can’t you see how she makes man and beast serve her, and how well she’s made her way in the world on her own bare feet? She mustn’t know of her power from us—it comes from her heart, it comes of her being a sweet innocent child.”
Just as a kind person cannot refuse the simple request of an innocent child with a pure heart, God cannot say no to Monica or to any soul that seeks the good and the true with longing and heart-searching desire that persists, knowing that seeking is designed for finding.
In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux from The Story of a Soul, “God cannot inspire unreasonable desires,” and “He would not inspire the longings I feel unless He wanted to grant them.”