“My sheep hear My voice,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, “I know them, and they follow Me.”
What a gift it is to know the voice of one who loves us! On this, the celebration of the fourth Sunday of Easter and the secular celebration of Mother’s Day, we can reflect on how we’ve been formed by two people who have surrounded us with love: Jesus and our mothers.
Jesus uses the image of the shepherd, who is present to his sheep from their conception, through the labor and delivery, all the way through their life. The shepherd’s voice would be the sound that stands out to the sheep from all of the natural noise and baa-ing that otherwise is going on around them. Clear and consistent, the shepherd’s voice breaks through all else and is the voice that leads to water, to pasture, to safety. The shepherd’s voice leads to life.
The mother’s voice is also known on a very deep level. For the nine months we’re swimming in a warm sac of water; we’re surrounded by our mother. Even as our inner ears are taking shape, they’re reverberating with the sound of our mother’s voice. We have the expression of our “mother tongue”—literally, the language spoken from the tongue of our mother helps us to be attentive to the sounds, the rhythms, and the pitches of whatever language she speaks. When we’re born, we recognize, seek out, and are soothed by our mother’s voice. Mothers condition us to use speech, help us to be receptive to words, and teach us to attend to voices, just by being mothers. St. Paul writes to the Romans that “faith comes from what is heard” (Romans 10:17). Hearing and attending to speech is a gift first given to us by our mothers, without whom how could we hear and have faith? Mothers may not be perfect, but the fundamental formation we’ve received from them is incredible. The mother’s voice begins our life.
This is also the invitation that this Sunday brings to us. Jesus desires us to know His voice, and we are best at catching the voice of our mother. And so He gave us the Church, who is to be like a mother to us. But unlike our own mothers, we have the choice as to whether we want to be mothered by the Church. Do we want to surround ourselves with the teachings of our Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher)? Then it is a call to immerse ourselves in Scripture and Tradition, to hear how the Church has spoken through the ages, to be as accustomed to her voice as we were to our biological mothers. And this is the great mystery: when Holy Mother Church speaks, she speaks the words of Jesus. If we want to be part of the flock of Christ, we need to dive into the mystery of His bride, our mother, the Church. For the Church, like Jesus’ mother Mary, has pondered in her heart all that has been revealed to her, and has been repeating this for all those who wish to listen.