Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
Years ago, I was traveling in Ireland with a few friends, one of whom could not pass a shop without entering and making a purchase. Toward the end of our travels, we were in a small, picture perfect, ocean side village. Sure enough, rather than simply enjoying the natural beauty of the place, I was “shepherded into” (thankfully) the only shop in sight. I no more than set foot in the door than the elderly proprietor, in her enchanting Irish brogue, said: “Thanks be to God! You are just the man I wanted to see!” Surprised, I looked over my shoulder, certain I would see a local who had walked in after me. There was no one. Standing, she started for the back room, calling out: “I want you to try on a sweater that I’ve only but a few stitches to finish.”
I quickly responded: “Thank you but I wouldn’t be interested…I’ve already tried on so many sweaters since I’ve been in Ireland that I smell like a sheep.” She stopped dead in her tracks, turned around, looked me in the eyes, and in a very grave whisper, said: “Oh, my dear…never say a thing like that…sheep are the most foul smelling of beasts.”
It turns out that I was, indeed, “just the man” she wanted to see. It seems that she got a bit carried away while knitting a sweater she intended to sell in her shop. The garment turned out much larger than one that would spark the interest of any villager, and too big even for the few tourists who wandered into this fairly remote place. It fit me like a glove!
She didn’t doubt that I was going to buy the sweater from her…even though I had no idea of the price. She said: “Now, you go along to the pub next door, Love, and have yourself a nice pint while I finish the last few stitches.” So, once again, I found myself being “shepherded” out into the seaside beauty, only to be taken immediately into a dark, smoky bar.
After a bit, three very…I mean VERY VERY…scruffy-looking men walked into the place. In all truth, we smelled them before actually laying eyes on them. The young waitress must have seen the looks on our faces and came immediately over and leaned down, wiping our table with a bar towel, and in a low voice, said: “Pay them no mind. They’re not what they look to be. They’re just having a bit of a break from their sheep.”
Trust me…sheep ARE the most foul smelling of beasts.
So it is especially surprising, that in his homily during the celebration of his first Chrism Mass as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis looked up from his prepared text and into the faces of over 1,600 priests, challenged them by saying: “This is what I am asking you: Be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”
What he was telling those priests, assembled to restate their commitment to ordained ministry that is they must make every effort to be an image of Christ to the people whose spiritual lives are entrusted to their care. Think of it like this: Through Jesus, The Creator got up close and personal to His creatures, who, as a consequence of the original sin, had indeed taken on the foul smell of death. By walking among us…rubbing against us…hugging us…leading us…feeding and protecting and healing us…Jesus took on our stench. And, having taken on our odor, He carried it with Him to Calvary where He became the True Lamb of God…sacrificed…so that we would no longer be “the most foul smelling of beasts.”
Our encounter with Jesus, The Good Shepherd, has given all of humankind the opportunity to look, sound, act, and even smell…the way in which God intended when He created us. All that made us “beastly” was burned up…destroyed…by the sacrificial fires of The Cross.
And then, on Easter morning, a fragrance of unequal beauty…a holy smell…the fragrance of new life…resurrection…re-creation…poured out from the empty tomb…overpowering every foul odor that blemished what The Creator first called into being. At first, only a chosen few enjoyed this powerful fragrance…far sweeter than any Easter Lilly. But, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost…this Divine fragrance poured out over the whole world.
Those of us who are made clean in the waters of Baptism have this Christ smell infused in us. Through Confirmation, it is sealed within us. At Eucharist, we celebrate and share the fragrance of new life…no longer foul-smelling beasts…but images of God. When we make an effort to live out our Baptism to the fullest…the Lord recognizes our voices and our smell…and so do other people! And they are attracted to it…the smell of Christ.
Now, back to the sweater.
It was waiting for me, wrapped up nicely with a bill sitting on top of the package which was a fraction of what the value was. I handed the lady a much larger travelers’ check…but still got the better of the bargain. Not only did I have a beautiful sweater, but when I got back to the U.S. and opened the package, there was a handwritten note: “Wear this for many, many years with the protection of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The blessing was priceless, the same blessing we enjoy in Baptism…when we put on Christ…in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we do our best to wear Christ without allowing the world to stain our Baptismal garment…we are no longer foul-smelling beasts, but children of God…recognized easily by how we look, speak, act…and even smell.