Our Master’s Voice

In 1898, the British painter, Francis Barraud, created a portrait known as His Master’s Voice that became the symbol for a powerful, upstart company of the 1920s—Radio Corporation of America (RCA). 

The painting is of his dog, Nipper, who enjoyed “nipping at the back of patrons’ legs.” When asked about the inspiration for the painting, he said:

It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond the fact that it suddenly occurred to me that to have my dog listening to the phonograph, with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it ‘His Master’s Voice’ would make an excellent subject. I had a phonograph and often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly was the happiest thought I ever had.

Regarding voices, a priest once told me a true story of his own dog, Spot, who one day decided to “fly the coop.” After searching for hours, the priest eventually made his way to the local dog pound and was granted entry into the kennel area filled with many dogs that began barking when they saw him. However, as he continued to call Spot’s name, he realized that one of the dogs was barking louder than the others. And as he drew near to the cage containing that dog, he realized that it was Spot, who recognized his voice.

In our world, besides our canine companions, many voices abound. From politicians seeking our votes, advertisers seeking our cash, and TikTok-ers seeking to “influence” us, the voices are endless and encourage us to follow them. 

But should we? On his Becoming Minimalist website, author Joshua Becker offers A Practical Guide to Discern the Voices in Our Lives. Regarding the “voices” that seek to influence us, he asks questions related to their: character & integrity; wisdom & understanding; and intellect & knowledge. In addition to these, two others, viewed in unison, offer THE question for you and me: Do the voices seeking to influence us have a selfless agenda and genuinely love us?

Our scripture passages for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (aka Good Shepherd Sunday) lead us to the answer. In the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12), Peter is “examined” by the religious leaders for a good deed done to a crippled man. They ask, “by what means was he saved?” And with great courage, Peter responds that “it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, …which has become the cornerstone.” The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118) echoes this: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” 

Now, if we recall our question regarding voices that have a selfless agenda and genuinely love us, the Gospel of John (10:11-18) reminds that there is only one! Jesus’ voice is front and center and He tells us: “I am the Good Shepherd” and “I lay down my life for my sheep.” And He has also taught us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. (John 15:13)

In my own life, before the birth of my first child, I thought I knew what selfless or sacrificial love was. I had, of course, read about and studied the types of love while at the seminary: Storge (familial); Philia (friendship); Eros (romantic); and Agape (selfless, sacrificial). But my idea of sacrificial love was imbedded in my mind rather than my heart. When my first child was born, however, it was as though a light switch was flipped to the “on” position. Upon witnessing her birth and gazing upon her, I knew that if an authority walked into the delivery room and demanded that for her to live, I would be required to give my own life, I knew that I would! That is sacrificial love, and it was at that moment of my life that the Spirit revealed this to me. 

Despite a world that seems so upside down, we see this on display more than we think: Of mothers encouraging their children that they can do it; fathers patiently imparting wisdom upon teenage children who know it all; and parishioners and neighbors, busy in their own lives, taking the time to call on us to see if we are okay.

This side of heaven, we are each novices when it comes to practicing selfless or sacrificial love. Nevertheless, the Scriptures document our forefathers in the faith and provide us hope. During the Easter season, we are treated to the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, where on display is the early Church just beginning to sprout its wings. This past Wednesday, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles (8:1-8) struck a chord for me. Saul had just presided over the stoning of St. Stephen and was now going door-to-door, dragging out men and women from their homes for imprisonment. Despite this, we know what happened to the converted Saul. Following his encounter with the Lord, for the remainder of his life, St. Paul poured himself out as a libation, as a sacrifice for the faith. (Philippians 2:17) Yes, selfless and sacrificial love united to Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus reminds us that He is the Good Shepherd and lays down His life for us. For His love is eternal. On our part, may we listen for Our Master’s voice in our lives. What is He saying to us? What is He calling us to do? What is He calling us to be?

And after we’ve listened and heard His voice in our hearts, may we love one another—sacrificially.

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