A leaf buds, spreads its green enthusiasm to the sun, and having given months of shade, turns brilliant red and then falls to the ground. A child sees its worth, and having chosen it from among a thousand of its like, excitedly carries it home, presses it between pages, fixes it to a note written in complementary color of crayon, and offers it to mom.
The beauty at the heart of the gift is the leaf, piles of which become a problem, but isolated and elevated by care and preparation, it has become a matchless token of that most precious but invisible reality, love. It is a simple and seasonal example of what I have come to call a found good, something that is already good in itself when it is taken up to be made better by human care and attention -- and intention.
Many artists use found goods in their works, but then so do many children, decorators, bakers, and especially lovers. A found good need not be in a pristine state of nature; it can also be something into which someone previously had poured great labor and skill, even genius, but then the finder takes it up as he finds it and directs it toward a new purpose never intended by its first craftsman.
In turning a found good to a new purpose, man reveals how he is in the image and likeness of God, bringing something new from what had ever been thus. Human creativity is an echo of the Creator's. But man's efforts can go only so far, limited by the goodness of what is found: that planter full of petunias cannot soar too far above the limited splendor of the discarded truck tire from which it was fashioned.
Predictably, God achieves greater things. In making Himself present and active to people, places, and times far beyond his long-ago earthly footprint, Jesus chose found goods and raised them to the level of encounter with the living God: a water bath, ointment, bread, wine, and words of forgiveness. Even that most ancient and universal "good", found among all cultures in all times, the lifetime covenant of faithful love between man and woman, Jesus "found" and elevated to be a place where His own divine love and fidelity would erupt and work in the world.
Thus we are blessed by God to rejoice in the sacraments, which look and feel so ordinary, and indeed all begin that way. But we approach them with reverence, and touch them only with holy trepidation. The obedience of the Church and the working of the Holy Spirit convert these once-found goods to new purpose and content, making them more than mere tokens: actual vehicles of that most precious and invisible reality, divine love.
This is the awesome work of our divine worship. Like the child who finds the beautiful leaf, and by directed care and attention, with intention, we cooperate with Christ in re-creating and re-newing not only the found goods that become His presence and work in the world, but also in the re-creation and re-newal of our very selves.
All this marvel and glory in which we bask is begun in the careful work of a child, in fact an infant, whose birth we now constrain ourselves to anticipate. He found upon the ground not a leaf, but our very flesh, human nature itself, fallen and trampled. With loving recognition He looked, and with a plan in mind He took up that found good: And Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-7) He is the image of the invisible God. (Col 1:15)
“Oh God, Who did wonderfully create and ennoble human nature, and still more wonderfully did renew it…” (Roman Missal) Behold, I make all things new. (Rev 21:5) Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!