Vincentian View: “The Smell”
All of us have heard the by-now famous statement of Pope Francis at a Chrism Mass where he told the gathered priests “Be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.” To render “smell” as “scent” compromises the intent. The earthy and evocative character of the description stirs mind and heart as well as nose. Vincent de Paul would love it. His desire for his followers to live and work close to those who are poor expresses the soul of the mission. Those who follow the way of St. Vincent—whether as priest, brother, sister, or lay member of the Family—must know and associate with the poor. An examination of conscience for any one of us might be: What do I smell like? Clearly with our different abilities and responsibilities, we can answer that question in various ways, but it must be honestly posed.
In the past weeks, we have heard the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd many times. I have let my mind wander into a reflection of what it means for him to smell like the sheep—that is, like us. Celebrating the Incarnation a few weeks ago offers some food for thought. Jesus came to smell like us when he came to become one of us. Can we say that “he smelt like us in all things but sin?” (with pardon to Heb 4:15). Can we read the Philippian’s Hymn (Phi 2:6-11) with this perspective—how Jesus emptied himself and came to smell like us? I need to say that I am writing this neither in a tongue-in-cheek manner nor with any sense of irreverence. I find the image offered by the Holy Father compelling and engaging. I am willing to allow it to play out in my thinking and speaking.
Having said that, let me stretch the illustration in a different direction. If we speak about Jesus as the Good Shepherd coming to smell like us, what might we say about us as the sheep coming to smell like our shepherd? When we draw close to Jesus, we begin to take on his aura. We can begin to speak and act like him. We can begin to think and feel like him. We can see things and people the way that he does. It is an attractive, not to say aromatic, concept. We need to take a deep breath so as to recognize and imbibe the smell of our shepherd.