Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Learning from the Good Shepherd

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published May 27, 2010

Most members of the animal kingdom have far more developed senses of smell than we humans possess. It is one of the important ways that they can find their meals and of course, manage to avoid becoming meals for other animals.

People have often made effective use of these highly developed senses of smell in everyday life. For example, we frequently use dogs that can detect dangerous materials in hidden places—some can even search for lost or deceased people in police work. The ability to smell is a critically important power in the world of animals.

“I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine and mine know me.” There is perhaps no more important animal in all of the New Testament than a sheep. This animal is used in so many different metaphors and examples throughout the entire Bible but especially in the New Testament where Jesus Himself is God’s own Lamb as well as our Good Shepherd.

We don’t have lots of sheep here in the urban areas of the Archdiocese of Atlanta although Father Tom Zahuta did recently tell me that there is a flock of sheep that he sees almost every day near his new pastoral assignment. But apart from Tom, most of us don’t encounter many of them with any regularity. Yet because of their scriptural significance, we keep hearing about these sheep and the shepherds who have been asked by the Lord to care for them in His name.

Pope Francis has repeatedly urged those of us who are bishops and priests to “smell like the sheep.” I am certain that his admonition has much to do with ministers being familiar and deeply engaged with the lives of those entrusted to our care. Animals often recognize other animals and humans almost entirely by scent. Sheep know the smell of the shepherd, and they feel safe when the shepherd is in their midst. We are supposed to be very close to our people, to know them and their aspirations, their fears and their joys.

Our people are also supposed to know us—with our foibles, our strengths and our desires to serve them. This mutual knowledge on the part of the shepherds and the sheep establishes a bond of trust that makes our ministry so much more effective. We can then shape, instruct and form them with an authority that is solidly based upon confidence and trust.

Jesus is the perfect Good Shepherd, and He has laid down His life for His Sheep. We can all have complete trust in Him because He has instituted a bond of trust that can never be broken or destroyed.

Pope Francis has admonished bishops and priests to shepherd God’s people in Christ’s name and to draw close to our people in ways that imitate the dedication of the Lord Himself. This familiarity breeds trust and openness. The shepherd should smell like the sheep, according to Pope Francis, so that we can move easily within their midst, guiding them, sanctifying them, being attentive to their needs and assuring them by our presence and our concern.

A great many of the folks of the Archdiocese know me—especially my obvious routines—my usually errant golf shots, my casual stopovers at Publix, or a chance encounter on an elevator or at the mall, my frequent visits to our schools to be with our kids from pre-school through high school events, even standing in line at the carwash waiting to claim my car. Equally important, I have come to know the flock of the Archdiocese and your many talents and cherished heritage. I know of your deep devotion to the Eucharist as manifested in our annual Eucharistic Congress. I know your profound love for your children and your dedication to their faith formation. I have come to appreciate and value the ethos of the South with its gentility and decorum. We have come to know one another in the nearly nine years that it has been my great blessing to be the shepherd of this part of the Lord’s flock. We must continue to build upon that knowledge as we all seek to find Christ together.