Every once in awhile now, if I need a happy moment before I go to bed, I watch video clips of babies who are listening to their parents speak — or really croon to them. If the adults are not urging their babies to say “Mama” or “Daddy,” the desire of each is to hear their child say “I love you” in response to hearing the words from the parents themselves. These are very young children – generally probably from 3 to 9 months old. When anything remotely akin to the sounds of those three most precious words come out of the baby’s mouth, the stunned joy of the adult is priceless. It’s a beautiful exchange and clearly can be seen as a conscious effort on the part of the baby. (You probably have to see it to get the full effect of such an exchange.)
“I love you.” How we long to be the recipient of such a phrase! Sometimes it is our actions that can transmit that reality and sometimes someone we love only has to say our name for us to get the message. Sometimes it only takes a look and, in some cases, love is an energy that flows from a person to an entire group gathered. That’s the “trademark” of a person who understands that love is a consistent practice, sometimes hard-won but never failing. Think of people you know like this. What comes to my mind is the love on Pope St. John XXIII’s face and the tears in his eyes on the day that the Second Vatican Council began. I can see my father’s pure gaze as he saw me emerge from the crowd once at the airport. I clearly see my mother in the depths of Alzheimer’s disease, smiling as I waited for the best greeting in the world each time I saw her: “I love you, Honey! I love you best…” (which she said often to anyone that came to visit her).
In John’s gospel this morning we hear Jesus say that “he calls his own sheep by name and they recognize his voice.” Unconditional love: that’s the way sheep know the one who loves them best, as do those babies, as do we. Often, as now, we long for their voice, their touch – the totality of their presence to us. I’ll wager that we can, if we try, sense what it feels like in this season when we need to count on virtual hugs. If you sit very still and try very hard (or not at all) can you hear the voice of God calling you with those words that mean the most? That look that tells you all you need to know? May it be so on this Sunday.