Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Priests Smelling like the Good Shepherd

The TV series ‘Parikoy” is creating a renewed interest in the Catholic priesthood. It casts a handsome actor to play the role of a young priest who definitely immerses himself into the lives of the flock he serves. Perhaps, the TV series would like to portray what Pope Francis said: that shepherds must acquire the smell of the sheep. Indeed, the Pope’s words are creating a great paradigm shift in the way we now see the priesthood. There is now a trend of expecting priests to descend from their exalted social pedestals in order to be more immersed in the lives of the ordinary people and this seems laudable. After all, this is the example that the Lord Jesus himself left us. He descended from his heavenly throne and became poor like us. He embraced the misery of the human condition. But we must not forget the reason for this self-emptying. He came down in order to lay down his life for his sheep. He came in order to battle the wolf that threatens his sheep. He engages in this battle by laying his life and in this way, he emerged as the victor: “I have power to lay (my life) down, and power to take it up again.” He descended into the depth of our human misery, which is death, so that rising from it, he may take us up with him. And it is this truth that many of us miss. Expecting the shepherd to smell like the sheep, we think that the priest should be like everybody else and thereby lose sight of the very purpose of his ministry, which is to be like Christ as told to us by the 1st letter of St. John.

Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and mine know me.” That Christ knows each of us is something that we are sure of. But do we, who consider ourselves as the sheep of Christ, know Christ? I think it is important to know Christ because unless we do so, we will never be like him. And this is the role of the priest. His role is to elevate the flock so that they may know and be like Christ. I remember my seminary rector who told us that when everybody is drowning in the mud, someone has to be on a higher place in order to pull up those who are drowning. If everybody is in the mud, who will be capable of pulling people out of their predicament? In a hospital, it is important that the doctor be well because if he were sick like everybody else, how can he treat and cure his patients? Christ who went down into the depth of human misery had the power to rise from it and to bring us with him. If the sheep want to pass through the valley of death, they have to listen carefully to the voice of the Good Shepherd  and follow him because “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

If we expect shepherds to acquire the smell of the sheep, we must not forget that the sheep must acquire the smell of Christ the Good Shepherd. The sheep must acquire the odor of holiness, the sweet odor of Christ, lest the shepherd fails to bring them to the green pastures and the restful waters of heaven. We simply cannot afford to remain in the world as if we were of the world. Remember that St. John tells us in the 2nd reading: “The world did not know him.” Being the alter Christus, the priest cannot smell like the world. He must be the first to exude the sweet odor of Christ. Kailangang mag amoy Diyos ang pari. Hindi mag astang Diyos kundi mag amoy Diyos. This is what we need: holy priests, not entertaining priests, not singing priests, not acting priests, not running priests, but holy priests, priests who pray, priests who really know the ways of God. If the sheep are to be led to holiness, they must be guided by holy priests. Look at how St. Margaret Mary was guided by a holy spiritual director in the person of St. Claude de la Columbiere. Look at how St. Faustina was guided by Blessed Michael Sopocko. Look at how St. Dominic Savio was guided by St. John Bosco. The list goes on and on and on…holy priests leading their flock to holiness. We need to pray for holy priests to serve God’s holy people…priests who do not smell like the world but who exude the sweet odor of Christ!

Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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