Stinking sheep

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday when we contemplate Christ the Good Shepherd.


Yet, sheep stink, at least two friends have confirmed.

We have this image of cuddly lambs – but sheep stink.

In the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis said that the church needs “shepherds living ‘with the smell of the sheep,’ shepherds in the midst of their flock…”


You shall know the real shepherds by their smell and by their willingness to live with the smells of their flocks.

I know what this means when I give a ride to a campesino whose clothes give off an odor of sweat from working under the hot sun in his cornfield, when I sit next to a woman who smells of the smoke from the wood fire where she has spent many hours making tortillas and preparing meals. At times it’s difficult.

Today is the day of prayer for religious vocations. Do our priests and our bishops smell like their sheep? Do we who work in the church know that “odor of poverty”?

I know that many women religious live with the smell of their sheep, working among the poorest in the US and throughout the world. The Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus and other followers of Charles de Foucauld smell of their sheep, as they live and work among the poor. I know priests here who spend their days out in the remote villages.

What I find most encouraging about Pope Francis is his concern as Archbishop of Buenos Aires to send priests to the villas miserias, the slums, as well as his personal willingness to connect with the poor and marginalized.

It’s a challenge – and not all are called to this. But if we really want to follow the Good Shepherd, all of us probably need to be out among the poor, at least some time each week.

If we do not know the “odor of poverty,” can we expect to share the “odor of sanctity”?



2 responses to “Stinking sheep

  1. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parson spoke of the need for Good Shepherds within the Church in rather earthy terms:

    For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
    No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
    And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
    A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
    Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
    By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.

    (For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,
    What wonder if a layman yield to lust?
    And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,
    A shitty shepherd, guiding clean sheep.
    Well ought a priest good example give,
    By his own cleanness, how his flock should live.)

  2. A friend on Facebook, Lynn Miller, added this very thoughtful and provoking response:
    ‘ I object on behalf of sheep. They do not “stink”, but they certainly smell different than we do. Sheep smell of lanolin, that is the oil that makes wool “greasy”, and you can find lanolin in many hand lotion mixtures. If you ever get the chance, help someone shear some sheep sometime, and you will get to enjoy the “stink”. ‘

    I guess we also need to get to enjoy the stink of other persons.

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