Sunday, May 03, 2009

4th Sunday of Easter (B)
Baby Talk

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
Picture: cc landeth

Dear sisters and brothers, have you ever witnessed parents speaking to their little ones in baby talk? Or maybe you’ve even done it yourself. What does it feel like? I’ve sometimes witnessed people do it in public and marveled at the fact that adults don’t seem to feel the least bit embarrassed speaking like that. Which brings to mind Friday’s edition of the comic strip For Better or For Worse, in which a young mother is coaxing her toddler to sit on a potty. Nizzie sit on poe? She asks politely. Nice poe-poe! Sit on pottie? She asks again. Pottie good, she says. Nizzie big girl. Big girls sittum on poe! Baby talk. But after the mission has finally been accomplished, the mother laments to herself: And for this I majored in English.

I’m not sure what the child-rearing experts have to say about baby talk specifically, but isn’t it amazing, the lengths people go to for their children? Good parents think nothing of lowering themselves in order to communicate with and care for their little ones, even to the extent of speaking gibberish in public. Isn’t that part of the power of love? It leads us to lower ourselves in some way.

But that’s just one direction in which love tends to move us. Can you think of another? Consider this phone conversation someone had with a stranger who was complaining about her parents, telling of how they were so controlling. How they never allowed her to do anything on her own. How she had no freedom. Then, when asked if she would mind revealing her age, she says, Oh, I’m 40. Our reaction to this story, I think, indicates another direction in which love tends to move people. Not only does it move parents to lower themselves for their children, at the appropriate time, it should also lead children to rise to the challenge of taking responsibility for their own lives, and to assume their proper role in their family and in society. We shouldn’t expect to continue acting like children throughout our lives, just as we don’t usually continue speaking baby talk all the time. Lowering and rising, these seem to be two important directions in which love moves us.

And these are also the two directions of movement that we find in our readings today. The second reading exhorts us, for example, to see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And how has the Father done this except in and through the death and resurrection of Christ the Son. As Peter tells his listeners in the first reading, there is no salvation through anyone else… In Christ, the presence of God has been lowered into our midst. In Christ, the Father has spoken to us, in our own language, a Word that we can all understand.

In the gospel, Jesus helps us to appreciate even more deeply this movement of divine descent by painting for us the tender image of the Good Shepherd caring for his sheep. Not only does the shepherd have an intimate knowledge of each of his sheep – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – but his love is such that he is willing even to lay down his life for them. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. Indeed, out of love, the Good Shepherd lowers himself even to the extent of becoming a baby sheep. For as we remind ourselves at every Mass, before receiving communion: for us, Jesus the Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For our sakes, the Shepherd assumes the condition of a lamb, slain in sacrifice to save his scattered sheep.

This is the mystery that we remember and in which we rejoice, especially in this great season of Easter, and at every celebration of the Eucharist. We celebrate the love that moved the Good Shepherd to lower himself, becoming for us a Lamb of Sacrifice. And our regular celebrations of this mystery should also help us to recognize how God continues to shepherd us in and through the various experiences, the different persons and situations, that we may encounter on a daily basis – in parents and children, friends and relatives, colleagues and classmates… Not just at Mass, but also in all of the mundane experiences of our lives, however challenging or consoling, the presence of God remains among us.

But this lowering of God into our midst is only the first direction of love’s movement. Can you recognize the other? Especially in the readings of these past weeks of the Easter season, haven’t we witnessed how those who meet the risen Christ always end up running off to tell other people about it? Haven’t we noticed how, filled with the Holy Spirit, the early Christians – and especially Peter in today’s first reading – continue to rise courageously to the challenge of preaching the good news to others both in word and in deed? Isn’t it striking how, moved and inspired by the Good Shepherd’s self-sacrifice, his sheep are emboldened to continue his work? Not only does love move the Shepherd to become a lamb, it also strengthens his sheep to become shepherds for others. In love, not only is there a lowering, there needs also to be a rising.

And this upward movement is also implied in another image of Christ that our readings present to us today: the image of the stone rejected by the builders (that) has become the corner stone. If Christ lowers himself to the extent of becoming a corner stone firmly embedded in the chaotic soil of our human situation, it is only so that we who claim to be his disciples can build upon the solid foundation that he provides. And isn’t this the grace for which we asked the Father in the opening prayer just now: to attune our minds to the sound of his voice, to lead our steps in the path that he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm?

In this connection, we may recall that the students of this parish are in the midst of organizing a retreat – a wonderful opportunity both to be shepherded and to shepherd others.

Sisters and brothers, today our readings remind us that to celebrate Easter – indeed, to celebrate the Eucharist – is to immerse ourselves in this twofold movement of love. It is to remain in the presence of the Shepherd who has lowered himself among us, so that we, in turn, can rise to the challenge of shepherding others. For as tempting as it may be to hang back and to be satisfied simply with being so-called Sunday Catholics, we know that to choose to do so is not much different from choosing to speak baby talk for the rest of our Christian lives. In the words of that popular Josh Groban song that could so easily describe what the Good Shepherd has done and continues to do for us:

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up... To more than I can be.

Sisters and brothers, how is the Good Shepherd inviting us to rise to the challenge of love today?


  1. Hi Fr Chris

    Thank you for a most inspiring reflection ... :)

  2. I've often wondered why the "Lamb of God" is my favourite prayer in the entire Mass...

    The imagery that is surfacing for me in this beautiful homily is the twin direction of love where the True Shepherd comes as a little lamb/little child to awaken love in our hearts (who could resist baby talk or puppy talk for that matter!), and being in relationship with the child/ lamb/ puppy evokes in us our own deep desire to be loved and safely embraced as the beloved "little one" cherished for it's own sake.

    And until we (grown-up shepherds trying to love God's flock) can relish being the lamb embraced by the True Shepherd, we are missing out on something precious.... that of shepherd and lamb, parent and infant- in a dance of pure, innocent love, captured in the poignant image of the Good Shepherd's embrace--a safe and precious love so needed in a world fallen and tainted by use...

    Only a baby can bring out such beauty... and fierce protection...

  3. Fr Chris, it so happened that a related thought came to me at the end of a retreat yesterday: "For so many years, I've been looking for opportunities to be shepherded - reading books, attending classes, participating in study groups, seeking guidance, and so on. Is now the time for me to be a shepherd - to be ready to lead and guide others, and to help them learn and grow?"

    But I was feeling so unprepared to do so. Thank you for this encouraging homily. May I always remember to "remain in the presence of the Shepherd who has lowered himself among us, so that we, in turn, can rise to the challenge of shepherding others."