“The priest who seldom goes out of himself …
misses out on the best of our people,
on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. …
This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied,
lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties —
instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’
This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”
Pope Francis’ at a Chrism Mass on March 28th, 2013
Soon after Pope Francis became the head of our Church, he shared this quote which was directed to the priests of the world but also applies to all who seek to be Christ’s disciples. Pope Francis wants his clergy to go out of their comfort zone and enter into the lives of their parishioners. To “smell of the sheep” speaks of the need to journey closely alongside of one’s parishioners. Today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, and we pray for more leaders in our Church to have the heart of a shepherd.
Today’s Gospel from John 10:1-10 reminds us of the ever present and pressing need for caring shepherds to guide God’s people. The time of Jesus was marked by false shepherds who were marauders – more focused on taking advantage of their flock than serving them. Thus it was essential for believers to, like sheep, recognize the voice of the true shepherd. It was common for more than one flock of sheep to spend the night in a shared pen. When morning came and it was time to move on to other grazing grounds, the sheep would recognize their shepherds voice and follow them. This passage reminds us that we are called to follow the voice of Jesus over the din of so many competing voices in our world – the voice of secularism, unbridled individualism, commercialism, etc. It is through prayer that we still ourselves to be able to listen to the still yet profound voice of our Lord.
The Gospel reminds us too that Jesus is the gate. It is through Jesus that we find the life giving waters of faith. In the first reading from Acts 2:14a, 36-41, we see Peter ready to open the gates to a life of grace and peace to his listeners through the saving waters of baptism. It is through baptism that the new believers will openly experience God’s forgiveness of sin and saving grace. We are called to live out our own baptism by continuously listening to and following the voice of our Good Shepherd, and may we enter into the lives of those we consider companions on the journey of faith through humble service to them.