(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am; Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5.30pm)
21 April 2013
[Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Ps 99; Apoc 7:9, 14-17; Jn 10:27-30]
The Gospel that is heard on the 4th Sunday of Easter has led this day to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and it has also become the world day of prayer for vocations, especially for vocations to the ministerial priesthood. In his homily for the Chrism Mass in Rome this year, Pope Francis spoke about the type of shepherd that Catholic priests should be. He said that priests need to be shepherds who live with “the odour of the sheep” – the “smell” of the sheep (1). In other words, priests need to go out and be close to their people, so that the light of faith, and the light of the gospel illuminates every corner of people’s lives. The anointing with which priests are anointed is intended to overflow, so that no part of people’s lives is not touched by God’s word, His mercy, His healing. The Pope urged the lay faithful to “be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.”
The Holy Father recalls that on the vestments that the High Priest wore, the names of the children of Israel were engraved on onyx stones that were mounted on the shoulder pieces of the garment that was the ancestor of the chasuble that the priest wears today: six names on the left shoulder-piece, and six names on the right shoulder piece. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the High Priest’s breast-plate. “This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart.” The Pope suggested that when we priests today put on our chasuble for the celebration of mass, that it should make us feel – upon our shoulders and in our hearts – the burdens and the faces of “our faithful people, our saints and martyrs who are numerous in these times” (1).
On this Good Shepherd Sunday we can pray that we will always have priests who faithfully live out the anointing they have received, that this anointing “may spread to everyone” especially to where people most need it and most appreciate it. We might pray in a special way today for our seminarians who are preparing to live out this priestly calling.
The theme of priests needing to live having the “smell of the sheep” on them is one that Pope Francis has used before becoming Pope. Turning the image slightly, before he was Pope he issued a challenge to priests, and really to all in the Church. The future pope said, “A church that limits itself to just carrying out administrative duties, caring for its tiny flock, is a church that in the long run will get sick. The pastor who isolates himself is not a true pastor of sheep, but a ‘hairdresser’ for sheep who spends his time putting curlers on them instead of going to look for others.” He said the situation today is the mirror opposite of the biblical parable of the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to find the one that is lost. “Today we have one in the pen and 99 we need to go looking for.” (2)
This is certainly a challenge for us priests, and makes us question our priorities, and what we are doing. But it’s a challenge not just for ordained priests. What is said about priest-shepherds is true also – in varying ways – for all the faithful of the Church. All of us, the baptised, are an anointed people – anointed with the Spirit in baptism and confirmation. The mission of the Good Shepherd to care for his sheep is not something entrusted solely to the ordained, but is something shared by the whole body of the Church – all of us together.
The whole Church – priests and people – continues the saving work of Jesus entrusted to the first Apostles. It is through all of us – as the Church, that the “peoples of every land hear the Shepherd’s voice” (3) and can come to follow him. It is through the lay faithful in particular – more so even than through priests – that the message of salvation can be proclaimed in every aspect of the life of the world. Everywhere that you are, the Good Shepherd wants to use you so that his sheep may feel his love and hear his voice. Through every single one of us the Good Shepherd wants to protect his sheep from those things that try to steal them from the Father. Amidst many voices which promise illusions of happiness, and amidst many false-gods to which we can come to serve, the Good Shepherd wants to speak through us so that His sheep will hear the only voice that truly brings life and salvation.
As we offer Mass today, let’s pray that “God the Father [will] renew in [each of us] the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed” – at baptism, confirmation (and ordination). May each of us be able to live in our own way the life and mission of the Good Shepherd, so that through the effort and sacrifice of each of us, and all of us together, the Church may truly be a light for the nations, so that God’s salvation may indeed reach the ends of the earth.
(1) Pope Francis, Homily for the Chrism Mass, 28 March 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130328_messa-crismale_en.html
(2) Carol Glatz, http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1301525.htm