What Do We Smell Like?

November 23, 2014 – Feast of Christ the King

Homily delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis:

When the kids were little, Carol used to make their Halloween costumes. When our oldest daughter, Mary, was 4 years old, she wanted to be a sheep. And so, Carol made a costume and turned her into an adorable little sheep.

The next year, we attempted to pass the costume on to 3-year-old Rick. He refused. The reason he gave: “Sheep are stinky.” I don’t know exactly how he came to that conclusion – we did not live on a farm, and he had not traveled extensively in his four years. Regardless, sheep do indeed stink, so we could not argue with him.

Carol made some horns that she attached to the headpiece of the costume, and he seemed quite content to go trick-or-treating as a ram. I know — rams are sheep. But Rick didn’t know that.

A tie-in to smelly sheep will come later in the homily.

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Growing up, two of my siblings, Sharon and Mark, used to work at an Arby’s Restaurant. When they came home from work they smelled like Arby’s. Their clothes, their hair, and their car smelled like roast beef, with just a hint of sesame seeds. I’m not complaining; I liked Arby’s. I’m just saying that they smelled like their work.

A tie-in to smelling like your work will come later in the homily.

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Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. What is our image of Christ the King?

At the beginning of today’s Gospel reading, we are presented with this image: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.”

As the Gospel goes on, that image quickly changes, however. Christ the King transforms. He becomes a shepherd, separating sheep from goats.

That is the king we know, the God with whom we feel comfortable. Our King is the Good Shepherd.

The first reading from Ezekiel paints a beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd:

I myself will look after and tend my sheep… 
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal…

A king sits on a throne overlooking his kingdom, looking down upon his subjects.

The Good Shepherd is out among his sheep – side by side, up close and personal.

In March of 2013, Pope Francis encouraged the world’s bishops to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

Basically, the Good Shepherd smells like His sheep, He smells like His work.

Jesus did not sit at the seat of honor at a banquet. He did not accumulate wealth or rub elbows with the rich. He did not dress to impress.

Jesus spent his time with the poor. He walked among the lepers. He connected with people on the fringe by going out and living on the fringe. He washed feet.

Jesus rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He understood His sheep because He was with them everyday. “I know my sheep and My sheep know Me.” (John 10:14) He lived with the smell of the sheep.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it very clear that He expects us to follow His lead:

He expects us give food to the hungry and drink to those who thirst. He expects us to welcome strangers and clothe the naked. He expects us to care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. These are the actions that allow us to inherit the kingdom.

Many of you know that I work with an organization called HOOP. We bring food, blankets, and other necessities to the homeless living under bridges, or in makeshift shelters along the White River. But we do more than that. We talk to them. We provide human contact and assurance that they are not forgotten.

I try not to eat very much on the days I will be going out with HOOP. I want to feel the hunger pangs of those I serve, even if just for a few hours.

I don’t shower right away after coming home. I don’t want to warm up, knowing that the homeless won’t be warm at all that night. I sit in my coat for a short time. I want to smell the campfire smoke that has permeated the coat. I want to remember that fire is the only source of heat for the homeless, while I sit in my house with the thermostat set at a comfortable 70 degrees.

I need to, in small ways, experience some of what the homeless experience every day. I need to smell like the sheep for a few moments.

Jesus wants us to be smelly. He wants us in the trenches.

Hungry, vulnerable people are all around us.

“For I was hungry, and you gave me food…”

All people need to be fed. Food is more than soup and a sandwich. We feed people by treating them with respect. We feed them when we lift them up and affirm them. We feed others when we show love and compassion. We feed their spirit.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me…”

Anyone can feel like a stranger or feel naked and vulnerable. We can clothe them with dignity. We can offer a smile, and a handshake, and human interaction. We can look them in the eye rather than quickly looking away to avoid contact.

“I was in prison and you visited me…”

Not all prisons have bars. Many people are imprisoned by the circumstances of their lives. Poverty, depression, addiction, loneliness – each prisons in their own way. We visit the imprisoned when we reach out to them. When we pick up the phone, or drop them a note, or meet them for coffee. We visit them when we listen. Our visit says to them, “You are important.” Our visit may be the key that unlocks their prison cell.

When we do all of these things, we are in the trenches – up close and personal. We are, as Pope Francis says, “living with the smell of the sheep.”

When we arrive at Heaven’s gate, maybe we will be judged by how long our list of good deeds is.

Or maybe, we will be judged by how we smell.

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