XX General Assembly – 22 April 2013 homily

This is the account of the 14th day of our SMA General Assembly – Monday, 22 April 2013.

We continued Working group reflections on formation, spirituality and lifestyle, structures and administration, finance.

Fr Paul Quillet SMA, a missionary in northern Benin Republic, gave the following homily at our Eucharist:

“St John 10 speaks of the Good Shepherd (the true shepherd). Yesterday we heard the verses 27-30: “I am the good shepherd (the true shepherd). Today we take from the beginning, verses 1-10 that speak of Jesus the Pastor of his sheep.

For a few years I had a hut in a Fulani village, going there regularly for a few days. I remember how the camp leader, early each morning before the household woke circled the herd, approaching each sheep, caressed, calling each one by name. Only after doing that did he go around each house to greet all members of the camp, his wives, his children, his shepherds.

When the animals make a cry, the shepherd knows it is time to move to other pastures, towards salty land. He went out with his flock for days with a very small bag, a mat, a water bottle, hat, his stick, and a big knife, living only on milk and sleeping on the ground. There is nothing he would not do for his animals. He does not think of himself but of the good of his flock.

No wonder that God chose to reveal himself through this parable, so oft repeated in the Bible. Through this beautiful parable God tells us who he is, he reveals to us how he sees us.

Psalm 22 (23) is one of my first translations in Fulani language. It is immediately understandable for the Fulani people. If God is my shepherd, I lack nothing, I fear nothing … Moreover, God (shepherd) prepares the table for me, and he invites me to eat, to be in communion with him. This gives meaning to our lives. It is of this shepherd that Jesus speaks in the Gospel. Jesus takes this parable to talk about himself. “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the gate” for the sheep.

This “I am” has a particular resonance, in that it is the name that God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. The biblical scholars tell us that in the Hebrew the verb ‘to be’ there is no notion of being in itself, but of ‘being in relationship’: ‘I am for you, I’m with you …’. Jesus calls himself the ‘Good Shepherd’. It is not a title; it is a life, a life is given, life-giving. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (v.11)

The sheep know his voice, he knows each one by name, and they follow him. He brings them out. The sheep, no more than the pastor, are not made to stay trapped within the sheepfold. If they do, they will get sick, they will of hunger.

Pope Francis said that pastors must be impregnated with the smell of the sheep. In his Letter to the Argentine bishops he recalls the need of missionary commitment in the light of the Gospel: “We need to go out ourselves to all peoples … A church that does not go out will become sick sooner or later … He said the sickness of a closed Church will occur if it is confined to being self-referential, self-contemplating, closed in on itself.

Jesus brought out his sheep through the door, “I am the door.” He brought out Peter from his Jewish world to go to the uncircumcised pagans, the unclean. Jesus the Good Shepherd calls us out of ourselves. Is that not what we want? Is that not what lies behind all the work we are doing here, our Action Plan, the work that we will continue to do? It remains for us to live what we say and what we write then we will be good shepherds with Jesus.

May the Lord bless the pastors that he has already given, and may he continue to give us good shepherds to lead the Society of African Missions.

May each of us be a Good Shepherd for those who are entrusted to us, able to go to the farthest, most abandoned and the poor. Amen. “