There are a lot of amazing things about holding a newborn for the first time—how tiny, how perfectly formed, how funny that they have so much (or so little) hair—but after each of my children’s births, two things stood out to me most. First, I was always amazed by the immediate, overwhelming sense of love I felt for this new little person. Second, I was humbled by how completely helpless a new baby is.
My love for my children may be only a tiny shadow of the love God has for each of us, but it helps me to understand today’s readings. St. Paul tells us that, Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly (Rm 5:6). I recognize that willingness to sacrifice for my children, when they were too new and helpless to have ‘earned’ my love. Just as I loved my babies before they had any way of consciously loving me back, our Father loves each of us, even when we have turned away from him, and even if we haven’t found him yet. This is a great comfort when I am struggling with my own sins and failings! Just as I continue to love my children despite my frustration with their disobedience, so in a much greater way, God loves us through all our faults.
Today’s Gospel calls to mind a similar idea: our children need our shepherding. We hear about Jesus calling the twelve disciples to go out to the “troubled and abandoned” children of Israel. Our mandate may not be to preach to the whole world (though who knows, maybe for someone reading this today it is!) but it is certainly to shepherd our own little flocks to the best of our ability. We may or may not be driving out demons or miraculously curing illnesses, but we are doing the hard work of shepherds every day. We guide our children in the things of this world—nourishing food, warm clothing, a safe place to play—as well as in the things of the Spirit. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we work to lead our children to the green pastures of a relationship with Christ himself.
And maybe the best part is that all of this is a gift! Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give (Mt 10:8b) refers to the gifts of the Spirit which the Apostles took with them on their mission. It is true also, however, of our relationships with our children. Each child we receive from God is a great gift which we didn’t earn and couldn’t have purchased; they are given into our care by the Lord who loves us. Our call, then, is to continue to thank God for the gift of our children by loving them—shepherding them—as generously as we are able.