Our readings this weekend talk about our shepherds in the life of faith. In particular those who lead their sheep astray, or who fail to live up to the ministry entrusted to their care.
Pope Francis is well known when he speaks to his bishops and to us priests, he tells us that a shepherd needs to smell like his sheep. It reminds me of some people I went to school with who actually had a sheep farm – and quite often when they came to school, well, they stunk – because they were working in the fields with the sheep before school.
And that is truly a good image for Pope Francis’ thought I think, and it reminds me so very clearly that we are all in this crazy life together, priests and people alike. None of us are above any of us. We all journey in faith together, in our brokenness, in our imperfections, in our sin – struggling and grappling with the messes in our lives, trying to be faithful, trying to see Jesus in the midst of it all – to encounter His mercy and healing and forgiveness that we all so desperately need.
Last week I got a card in the mail from a lady, whom I don’t know, who just wanted to write and tell me that she was praying for me. She said her pastor encouraged his parishioners to all pick a priest of the Diocese and just pray for them. In the midst of my Monday, which I hate with a passion, that simple note card really hit me.
It reminded me of a most special way of an encounter with the prayers of others that was so indescribably profound for me. Three hours before were ordained priests, the Bishop took my classmates and I to meet the Carmelite Nuns in Erie. Now these nuns were brought to the Diocese some 60 years ago for the primary purpose of praying for vocations and praying for the Diocese. There’s four of them there now and they live in absolute isolation, separated from the world entirely, in a cloistered Monastery right behind the Seminary in Erie. And that afternoon, the Bishop took us inside the Monastery, as only he can do, to have these nuns pray over us. As we knelt down before these holy women, it was truly an encounter with the Spirit, with our own unworthiness, with the absolute emptiness of how much we were going to need to rely on the prayers of others throughout this ministry that was about to be entrusted to us. That experience, their holiness, our unworthiness, is something that continues to simply take my breath away.
You may or may not be aware, but your priests are not perfect. Our lives stink and much as yours do at times – like it or not, whether we admit it or not, we all smell the same – we are all in this together.
I don’t have so much of a point this week as I have a plea – pray for your priests. We need your holiness. Pray that we might be shepherds after the heart of Jesus. And know, always know, that we spend our lives praying for you, even though we do it imperfectly at times. God help us all. +