In the last two weeks, I focused on the Christological reason we need to safeguard our authority jealously. Today’s post is on the ecclesiological reason. As written in the past, one can distinguish Christological reason from ecclesiological reason because the former refers to the life of Christ as a person, while the latter concerns the Church as an institution established by Christ.
Evangelisation and holistic salvation of souls are at the heart of the Church’s mission and these cannot be effectively achieved if authority is not exercised properly. Right from the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has emphasised being good shepherds of the flock entrusted to us.
In his homily at the 2013 Chrism mass, less than a month after his election as a pope, Pope Francis introduced the concept of the “smell of the sheep” as a standard on how we shepherd Christ’s flock. In his words:
“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”.
In the same year, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium. In the document, he affirmed:
“An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice”. (Evangelii Gaudium, 24).
In his speech to the community of San Luigi dei Francesi on 7 June 2021, Pope Francis urged the priests to “be shepherds with ‘the smell of the sheep’…people capable of living, of laughing and crying with your people, in a word, of communicating with them”. He further maintained:
As priests and religious, we cannot effectively take on the “smell of the sheep” if we abuse our authority. No, the two do not go together. We cannot disparage and denigrate those under our care and still expect to take on their smell. No way, our arrogance will push them away. We cannot live affluently amidst their poverty and take on their smell. No, our wealth will scare them away. We cannot glory in our success and take on their smell. Jesus did not call us to be successful, but fruitful, and fruitfulness is entirely about the sheep.
We cannot take on the smell of the sheep if we victimise the sheep who ask for something genuine or point out a shortcoming that affects their welfare. No, our vindictiveness will make them distrust us and the office we occupy. When these happen, the sheep withdraw. We cannot fight our collaborators in tending the sheep and expect to take on the smell of the sheep efficiently. No, when we fight ourselves, we divide the flock and it becomes difficult to take on the smell of the sheep that we consider our enemy.
Of course, Jesus does not smile at a bad shepherd.
Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾