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February 7, 2017

Book: With the Smell of the Sheep: The Pope speaks to priests, bishops, and other shepherds
Editor: Giuseppe Merola
Orbis Books. Maryknoll, NY. 2017. Pp. 297

An Excerpt from the Foreword:

Certain key, bracing themes emerge as we peruse these wonderful texts. We hear of pastoral proximity and pastoral availability. I don't think any word appears more frequently in these talks than "closeness."

A second pivotal motif is spiritual detachment. He understands the thousand ways that worldliness can invade the life of a priest: material comfort, the nice house, plenty of time for "soap operas" (which come in for regular bashing in these texts), and one of his favorite pet peeves, the answering machine.

A third consistently emphasized theme is joy. The idea rings like a bell throughout these presentations. That the pope is not talking about an emotional state is signaled by the fact that he urges, even commands, his hearers to be joyful. You can't command emotions, but you can indeed command rootedness in the purposes of God --- which in point of fact will make you joyful.

A fourth dominant motif is prayer --- again not surprising from a man shaped all his life by one of the greatest masters of prayer in the Catholic tradition. Francis says that priests "need to be receiving antennas that are tuned into the Word of God, in order to become broadcasting antennas!"

In the same discourse in which he invoked the smell of the sheep, Pope Francis employed a biblical image that sums up much of his thinking about priesthood and ministry. Psalm 133 speaks of "precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe." The pope wants priests who are anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who are immersed in the things of God. But he wants the oil to run down to the very edge of their sacred vestments so that it might anoint the people whom they serve, even those on the margins of society.

An Excerpt from the Book:

It is important to understand body language, not to ask things that are already evident from body language. If people come to confession it is because they are penitent; repentance is already there. They come to confession because they want to change. Or at least they want to want to change, if they think their situation is hopeless. Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur, as the old maxim goes; no one is obliged to do the impossible.

Table of Contents:

Chrism masses

Meetings with priests

Priestly formation

Meetings with bishops

Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia

Other occasions