Featured image: The Cestello Annunciation (1489-1490), painted by Sandro Botticelli, held by the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, Italy.
You only find what you are looking for.
This line I read made so significant impression on me during my undergraduate Philosophy studies (1975-1978) that I spent many years afterwards testing how this was the case. Whether this principle is true in all cases, and why it is true in many cases, was not as significant as was the way it opened up for me a whole field of exploration – “Why do we search for anything?”
We hear something about this in the “vigilance” enjoined on us by the Gospel text given in the Catholic lectionary for the First Sunday of Advent, which in part reads:
Matthew 24: 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 43 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. 44 So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
In this case, the biblical text commands unceasing vigilance – a vigilant person who is “wakeful and watchful; keeping steadily on the alert; attentively or closely observant.” Yet, no one “stays awake” in a general sort of way; rather he or she stays awake because he or she is expecting something, or Someone, to appear.
In our biblical text, we are awake to the fact that the “Lord will come” (v 41), that “the Son of Man will come” (v 44) – no vagueness about this! – but we do not know when He will come, or how. And so we must learn how to prepare ourselves, so that we come alive with alertness, and at just the right moment, when Someone suddenly does appear.
I am wondering about Mary of Nazareth, and to what degree her habits of preparation built up in her an awareness of the ways of God that eventually allowed her to see that God was right there, offering her Himself.
If we wished, then we might wonder why God, the Trinity, chose Mary of Nazareth as she to whom to send the Archangel Gabriel with their divine request. Why her in particular? Or instead, we might consider a clue about this being given us to consider in Botticelli’s painting.
Did you notice that Mary is leaning against a lectern – that wooden structure built for holding the Scriptures open and up at eye level to allow easy reading and study of the text? It suggests that Mary is used to studying the Scriptures. Otherwise, why would that elaborate lectern be set up for her right in her own room?
I am thinking that Botticelli senses a connection between Mary’s habit of reading or hearing the Scriptures – “and his mother kept all of these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:51b) – and the fact that it was she, among all human beings, who recognized an Angel when He appeared. “You only find what you are looking for.”
It is my experience of God’s courteous way with us that He does not force a person to notice Him, even when He does draws especially close to him or her. Very often a person will not notice that God is right there. (Today’s Gospel text speaks of His “thief-like” way of coming and going [Matthew 24:43] among us.) God prefers, it seems, to wait until we become alert enough to notice Him. And I think that the preparing-habit that activates our alertness to His appearing is the daily study of the Scriptures.
Luke 24:44 – “’These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
Botticelli makes us wonder whether God, far more often than we ever guess, sends us Angels to help and guide us, and possibly in world-changing ways. Yet, we are not ready, not vigilant, because our habits of preparing ourselves are sloppy, or we gave up on them altogether.
In contrast, Mary was ready by her unceasing preparation for His appearance, such that she recognized – “most blessed are you among women!”, Elizabeth exclaims (Luke 1:42) – that God was right there in front of her, kneeling, speaking directly to her. And after a time, but not quite yet (in the painting), she will reply.
An Advent Habit to Cultivate in Week One of Advent: Get a study Bible (i.e., one that has the scholarly notes given as helps to the reader to use while reading) and study, section by section, all of Luke, chapter 1. Watch how God works, putting in place certain essential conditions for the appearance of the divine Son. Read the scholarly notes given you, and follow some of the cross-references they give you to other texts in the Bible. Wonder about what you notice.
 The name “Cestello” refers to the reformed tradition of Benedictine form of Religious Life called the “Cistercians,” who at one time had operated the Church of San Frediano [St. Fridianus] in Cestello in Firenze, Italia. In the middle and late 1400s, there was attached to this Catholic church a convent of Carmelite Sisters called Santa Maria degli Angeli, for whom Botticelli painted this image of the Annunciation.
 Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi), born in 1445 in Firenze, Italy; died in 1510 in Firenze, Italy, in the Oxford Companion to Western Art: “Today, he is perhaps the most famous painter of the early Renaissance Period; in his own time one of the leading painters in Florence (Firenze), Italy.” See: http://www.oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e347.
 This image in the public domain on the Wikimedia Commons.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 24:41–44.
 Oxford English Dictionary at “vigilant.”
 Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to prepare”: “To bring into a state of mental or spiritual readiness; to incline or dispose beforehand; to make mentally ready or fit for something.”
 Luke 1:26-38.
 The dogma of the Immaculate Conception – a unique grace given Mary at the moment of her own conception in the womb of her mom – concerns this. But I am here exploring another idea.
 The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) at “lectern”: “A reading- or singing-desk in a church, esp. that from which the lessons are read; made of wood, metal, or stone, and often in the form of an eagle with outspread wings supported on a column.”
 Just to be clear. The conditions that caused Mary to be able to recognize God when He came to her are utterly in God, and not in some secret and self-generated capacity in Mary herself. Her habits were from the start graced habits, but she had to decide to practice them.