Dear Parishioners,
Back in 2013, just before I was ordained a priest, Pope Francis asked the priests of the world to “be shepherds that smell of the sheep. Smelling like a sheep requires getting close to them. Shepherds got close: they slept at the entry to the pen to protect the sheep and keep them from wandering off. The sheep recognized the shepherd’s voice and followed; the shepherd held a wandering sheep around his neck to reinforce his smell and remind the sheep not to wander again.

Jesus got close to the people. The Pharisees set themselves apart. He still comes close, taking on human flesh. Jesus healed by giving Himself to us and to God on the cross. He took the high road: not returning insult, not threatening, but submitting to those who judged unjustly. To be close to Jesus, we need to follow His example by reorienting our lives to live His unconditional, merciful love. Submission does not mean becoming a doormat. Instead, we find strength in suffering and the power that comes from the work of dying to self. Filled with the Holy Spirit we can forgive, speak truth in love, avoid becoming defensive or going on the attack, and live like Christ, the servant of God, our Shepherd.

We are the gatekeepers of our lives. We are the keeper and guardians of our hearts. Guarding our hearts means staying awake, being watchful, and remaining diligent. Awareness of and reflection on what is happening within and outside us are the gatekeeper’s key. Depending on who or what it is we either open our heart or keep it closed. Sometimes we need to open the gate and sometimes we need to keep the gate of our life closed. Look back on your life and you can see that.

To whom or what have you opened your heart in the past? Where did it take you? Did it lead to the pastures of abundance or was it a dead end, or maybe a detour? When have you opened your heart and been surprised by possibilities and a fullness of life you could never have imagined?

Who or what stands at your gates today? Who or what are the people, opportunities, possibilities, and choices that seek entry into your life? The gates in our life are threshold places, times of discernment, moments of transition, and decisions to be made. To whom or what do you need to open and to whom or what do you need to close? How might your life change if you open? What might you miss if you close? Will your life be enhanced and empowered by opening or will something be lost? What pain or wound might you prevent by closing? Where is fear in all this? Which will enhance and add to life today, opening or closing?

We do not have to make these decisions alone or in isolation. Jesus said, “I am the gate.” He is the gate that opens and leads to the pastures of abundant life, and he is the gate that stands against death. We open or close in collaboration with Jesus. “The sheep follow [the shepherd] because they know his voice.”

Not just priests are invited to smell like the sheep. All of us are sheep and shepherds, called to care for one another in the name of Jesus Christ. By getting close to one another, we can help others hear God’s voice, and experience His love and God’s forgiveness. Just as the sheep gate is the doorway to the sheep pen, so are our lives doors through which Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, dwells in our midst and is made known.

Fr. Monteleone

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