My mother loves babies, my guess is that most people do, so growing up we always had babies around the house. I noticed that no matter what was going on and no matter how many babies there were in the house at the time when one started crying not only would the ladies be able to hear it, but they would also be able to differentiate between babies. I couldn’t have been more than six years old at the time, but I remember standing at my grandmother’s kitchen table in awe as my mother, grandmother and two aunts heard a baby, and unanimously proclaimed which one it was.
In time I learned this trick too. Cries, like voices, are peculiar in nature to individuals. Just as you can tell who is on the other end of a telephone call by their voice so can you tell the baby on the other end of the cry. This image keeps coming back to me as I pray about today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us that the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow him and that they will not follow a stranger. In order to be able to distinguish one voice, or baby’s cry, from another takes consistent, quality, intentional contact. Just as my mother, grandmother and aunts had to spend time and invest love in order to be able to pick out the right cry so do we need to do with Jesus.
If we aren’t spending consistent time with Jesus in a quiet setting it would be like a mother constantly talking on the phone while dealing with the baby. Sure enough she could get things done, but her baby’s cry will always be associated with what is going on with the phone. What happens then when there is no phone conversation? She has more difficulty picking out her baby’s cry than a mother who listen to her baby without any interference. This is not to say that a mother who multitasks is less of a mother, but you get the point. The same can be said for consistency and intentionality. If a parent only hears their baby once a month or a short time each week, it is more difficult for them to differentiate their baby’s voice from any other.
We need to be intentional and consistent in our prayer time with Jesus because that is how we get to know his voice. I often hear people say that they don’t pray often because they can’t hear God speaking to them. I wonder how many times it’s because we don’t know what God’s voice sounds like. We can’t blame God for not speaking; if He was, we just didn’t know what we were listening for. Just as no sheep will follow anyone but the shepherd so it is with us. If a sheep is sold from one farm to another it takes a while for them to get used to their new master’s voice. Just because their owner changes doesn’t mean that they immediately change voice allegiance. The tone and pitch of their old master’s voice is still ringing in their ears because it is what they are used too. So we who have been purchased at a great price need time and consistency to get to know our real master’s voice. If a sheep has never heard the shepherd, when he calls them they won’t follow.
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen