Do Vincentians Really Have the Smell of the Sheep?

by | Jul 6, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

The “Smell of the Sheep” the first time

The first time he caught our attention with the image of the “smell of the sheep” was a mere two weeks after he became Pope. He told the priests of the world they should “be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” A powerful image (no pun intended)!

Since then he has used this and other images often for getting out of our comfort zones. One I particularly like is getting mud on your shoes. In his excellent biography of Pope Francis Mark Shriver writes of the days the future Pope was in charge of young Jesuit.

“…all the Jesuits would go on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings to work in the neighborhood, doing all sorts of things. We had a schedule, and we had a time at which we had to be back.”

“Bergoglio was there, and he would receive us very affectionately,” Gauffin said. “But he looked at the shoes of some of the priests and he said, ‘Today you haven’t done anything.’ It had rained and it was muddy, and they had nothing on their shoes, they were shiny.” “He told them they returned without the smell of sheep,” Nardin added.

He has certainly demonstrated his own predilection to be with people when so often he wades into crowds, to the horror of his security detail.

Vincentian echoes

Fast backward to Frederic Ozanam telling his brother, a priest no less, to get out of his rectory and go to the “peripheries”…

“The priests must give up their little bourgeois parishes: their flocks are an elite in the midst of a vast population that they do not know….” (Letter of Frederic Ozanam to Alphonse Ozanam, March 6, 1848)

You are not carrying out your true mission. If a larger number of Christians and especially clergymen had looked after the workers in the last ten years we would be more certain of the future.” (Letter of Frederic Ozanam to Alphonse Ozanam, March 15, 1848)

He continues in words that are startlingly relevant to our times…

“Ah! My dear friend, what a trouble, but what an instructive time it is, through which we are passing! We may perish, but we must not regret having lived in it. Let us learn from it. Let us learn, first of all, to defend our belief without hating our adversaries, to appreciate those who do not think as we do, to recognize that there are Christians in every camp, and that God can be served now as always! Let us complain less of our times and more of ourselves. Let us not be discouraged, let us be better” (Letter of Frederic Ozanam to Alexandre Dufieux, April 9, 1851).

What about us?

Can you, the followers of Sts. Vincent and Louise, hear the echoes?

Is it a stretch to think that Vincent would say something similar to all Vincentians regardless of whatever lifestyle they find themselves in?

J. Patrick Murphy puts it this way in “Mr. Vincent.”Vincent lived with the nobility (the De Gondis) but ate with the servants.

He suggests this lesson for us.

Humility and simplicity always work well with people.

Things to think about

  • Do I have the smell of the sheep and mud on my shoes?
  • How many of those I serve do I know as more than “clients”?
  • Do I really understand what Jesus did when he washed the feet of his followers and asked: “Do you understand”?