Laying down one’s life

A good shepherd lays down his life
for the sheep.
John 10: 11

Pope Francis has spoken often of the importance of sharing the “smell of the sheep.” As he wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 24:

An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice.

Next month the world will celebrate the beatification of a Salvadoran bishop who took on the smell of the sheep and gave his life for them. As Monseñor Oscar Romero said in his July 22, 1979 homily:

 I want to repeat to you what I said once before:
the shepherd does not want security
while they give no security to his flock.

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom  in 1998 of another shepherd, Monseñor Juan Gerardi, the Guatemalan bishop, who was killed days after the office he led had released a report – “Nunca Mas – Never Again” – on the many killings in his country.

He, like Romero, knew the risks of what he was doing. Years before he had fled his diocese because of the violence and death threats. As he said when the report was released,

We want to contribute to the building of a country different than the one we have now. For that reason we are recovering the memory of our people. This path has been and continues to be full of risks, but the construction of the Reign of God has risks and can only be built by those that have the strength to confront those risks.

How can we who serve in the Christian community share the mission and courage of martyrs like Romero and Gerardi? How do we lay down our lives for others?

It’s not merely a question of martyrdom, but a question of laying down our lives, our agendas, every day, for others, especially the poor and suffering – even when we’d rather be sitting at home writing or reading about the poor.

To do this we must not be afraid to go out and smell like the sheep.

We must listen to them, hear their joys and sorrows, and accompany them on their journey.

We can do this best, I believe, when we are deeply connected with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who gave His life for the sheep and promises us life.

Doing this can give us life.

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