Today, we are reading what is called the Good Shepherd discourse found in John’s Gospel.
We hear the powerful words from Jesus, “My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd as witnessed by his ministry.
But there is another Good Shepherd roaming the earth today: Pope Francis.
Pope Francis’ pectoral cross is this symbol of Christ the Good Shepherd. And the Holy Father has been tending his flock since March 2013 by his words and his actions.
We see the Good Shepherd and hear his voice in everything Pope Francis does.
On the day of his ascension to the Chair of St. Peter, he humbly appeared before a crowd in St. Peter’s Square and asked for the crowd’s blessing.
Then he rode in a bus with his fellow Cardinals back to the hotel to gather his things after his election instead of riding in a limo. He rejected living in the palatial suites at the Vatican, and instead chose a residence at a retreat house with a bedroom and simple living room. His limousine is NOW a tiny, modest Fiat.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio even chose a humble name as Pope, becoming the first Francis, a name prompted by a comment from a friend immediately upon his election as Pope.
As he was receiving more and more votes in the conclave, the cardinal sitting next to him, Brazil’s Claudio Hummes, tried to comfort his nervous friend.
After the voting reached the two-thirds majority that elected him, applause broke out. Cardinal Hummes then hugged and kissed him and told him these prophetic words: “Don’t forget the poor.”
That moment, that gesture is what inspired Bergolio to choose the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, the saint known for rejecting opulence and comfort, and embracing poverty; the saint who proclaimed the Gospel to all creatures; the saint who was never a priest, only a humble deacon.
In one of his first addresses, Pope Francis was asked by a reporter, “What kind of Church do you want?”
He said, I want a “poor church, for the poor.”
One of Pope Francis’ most powerful directives to the Church came in December 2015 when he launched the jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy.
Mercy is shocking. Mercy is beautiful. Mercy takes your breath away. And mercy is the trademark characteristic of the Good Shepherd.
CNN news anchor Carol Costello had her faith reawakened by the Good Shepherd Pope Francis and his call of mercy. She shared her story several years ago about how the doors closed on her faith.
“I remember the day I stopped praying. It was the day after my little brother, Jimmy, died of cancer. He was 25. I was so angry at God.
I was 27 at the time, and, like most young people I had stopped going to church. But, on that day -- that terrible day -- I desperately needed to understand why God took my brother. I called the nearest Catholic church, looking for a priest. A lady picked up the phone. ‘Can I talk with Father?’ I asked.
I wish I could say her answer was ‘yes.’
Instead, she asked me if I was a member of that particular parish. ‘Does it matter?’ I asked (At the time I lived far from my home parish). I don't remember how she responded, but the answer about my being able to see Father was clearly no.
I cried for a bit, then decided I would never ask God for anything. Clearly, his conduits on Earth did not have time for me -- a lifelong Catholic -- and sinner -- so why would he?”
But it was a conversation with a Catholic Cardinal about people who may feel outside of the church, and the actions of Pope Francis, that changed everything for Costello.
“’There is room for everyone,’ Canadian Cardinal Gerald Lacroix insisted. (The Cardinal says there are hard truths in the Gospel and in Church teaching) But that doesn't mean we reject.’”
Costello said, “That last sentiment – ‘that doesn't mean we reject.’ -- did it for me.
I finally understood why Pope Francis reawakened my faith. I always felt my church would reject me for committing the smallest of sins. Like calling a priest at a church that was not my home parish. Like NOT covering my head with a traditional veil at Easter. Like accidentally eating meat on Holy Friday…
(Cardinal) Lacroix likened … Pope (Francis)'s approach to Jesus. ‘Jesus didn't judge. Jesus did not come as a judge. He came as someone who preached and talked about the love of God… Jesus walked with sinners until the very end. He did not banish them to fires of hell, for He refused to give up on anyone.’
As the journalist said, “I can't wait to go church next Sunday. And, yes, I will bow my head and pray for forgiveness, and if I'm worthy, Christ's love.”
The words of a CNN news anchor Carol Costello.
So, how is our Church showing the Mercy?
Each of us can make our parish a more welcoming place to newcomers.
If you see a parent struggling with a child’s behavior, offer a friendly smile, a sympathetic nod, or a helping hand.
If you see a person exhibiting unusual behavior, understand it might be a sign of a disability or a sign of mental health distress. Embrace the person as a child of God and understand that each of us has different ways of receiving and communicating love.
If you see someone who is disheveled or out of sorts, consider that he or she might be in dire straits. Act with compassion.
And always remember, a warm smile, a nod, or a small kindness can make all the difference.
This is the behavior of the Good Shepherd. This is the behavior our Holy Father. This is the behavior he is calling us to show as we follow the Good Shepherd as a welcoming, non-judging, non-condemning Church.
Pope Francis says the Church’s “very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” to all the world.
Today we are Anointing of the Sick.
This Sacrament provides healing and the forgiveness of sins. It is an extraordinary sign of God’s MERCY in our lives. Our Good Shepherd today is Fr. Bryan Hersey, whose healing hands tend the flock at the First Hill Hospital ministry as chaplain.
As the Catechism states: “This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament.”
I invite you to partake in this merciful sacrament of love today.