Each year, the Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Easter and notwithstanding the global pandemic, this year is no different.
In a 2013 homily during the celebration of the Chrism Mass at St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Pope Francis challenged pastors “to take on the smell of sheep”. Admittedly, this is not the most pleasant of smell with which to be associated, but the Pope’s challenge was for pastors, and indeed all leaders, to be so immersed in the lives of those whom they lead, that they even share the same smell.
Time and again the Church has been called upon to provide leadership in turbulent times.
The Credit Union sector in Trinidad and Tobago owes its origins to the intervention of Thomas Malcolm Milne, a devout Catholic whose leadership provided the basis for economic stability amongst the poorer classes in the post-World War II period.
The Catholic Church’s contribution to the local education and health sectors is without parallel, as is the establishment and management of several homes for the displaced, the homeless, and the indigent.
The sacrifice of the Dominican and Carmelite Sisters in manning the St Dominic’s Children’s Home and the then St Jude’s Home for Girls remain largely unheralded but tremendously valuable.
However, Trinidad and Tobago is crying out again today for that quality of leadership, not solely from the Catholic Church, but from all sectors of society. There is a palpable leadership vacuum in our society which is being filled with misinformation.
The responses of some who position themselves as civil society leaders to recent events in our wider society, demonstrate an overwhelming absence of empathy, decorum, respect, and compassion for the other, all of which are counter-intuitive to what the Good Shepherd represents and demands of His flock.
Who then, will bell the cat?
Who will challenge our leaders to be more circumspect in their language, so that they build bridges rather than further polarise an already divided society?
Who will challenge the culture of entitlement so rampant amongst us all, that makes our desire for personal pleasure and enjoyment paramount, to the detriment and well-being of the wider society?
Who will demand of our legislators and the Executive that they turn up for work every day, instead of engaging in idle and useless banter that draw us no closer to finding meaningful solutions to our growing penury?
The answer lies at the very doorsteps of our churches, and in the very images we see looking back at us in our hand-held mirrors.
We, the people of this pasture, are being called upon to take up the mantle of leadership in our society, not simply to wear titles of leadership as badges of privilege, but rather to immerse ourselves in the everyday lives of our people, to bring sight to the blind and vision to the blinded, to drink the deadly poison of our communities and not be harmed, and to bind the wounds of the economically and spiritually broken.
We must be willing to accept the challenge to begin “smelling like sheep”.