A Shepherd Must Smell of Their Flock
BY JORGE PALACIOS JR. | May 1, 2023
“A shepherd must smell of their flock” is a message that Pope Francis has emphasized throughout his papacy. This Sunday’s Gospel expresses something similar—the flock will follow the shepherd they are familiar with, but reject the thief that climbs over the gate. For anyone who has ever tried to work with others, it boils down to one word: trust. If I know you and I can trust you, I will be willing to follow you.
Some years ago, I worked for a youth conservation corps in Colorado through AmeriCorps. I spent my summers there serving as the leader of a chainsaw crew. These teams were usually composed of excited 18-to-24-year-olds with little to no experience in land management and who had been given the summer to learn to use chainsaws for conservation work. Basically, I had 3 months to help train folks, sometimes barely younger than myself, to carry out physically demanding labor in a skill new to most of them while making sure everyone kept all of their limbs. Success in this realm only comes from a balance of technical competence, coolheadedness, and building trust.That goes beyond simply keeping people safe. When my crew was hired to work for a local city government on a project that included both the removal of an invasive species of trees and the removal of encampments built in those trees by unhoused people, my crew trusted that I could express our collective discomfort to both the organization as well as the city government. The situation was resolved smoothly as we were transferred to work on a different project. But it was only smooth because my crew trusted I knew their discomfort. I not only sat with them in that discomfort but helped them seek change.
How does this apply to justice work? To answer a question with a question, how can we work together for justice if we are not willing to be together? We cannot abstract out the people we wish to make the world more just for. If we do not know each other, we cannot work with and for each other. If we make no attempt to smell like the flock, they will never know if we are the shepherd or just another thief climbing over the gate.
- When have you or someone you know been a shepherd who “smells like their flock?”
Jorge Palacios Jr. has served as the Migration Coordinator for Youth Engagement for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2022. He grew up on a cattle farm in northern Colorado and attended Regis Jesuit High School, and then later Regis University in Denver, Colorado. He has worked as a crew leader on chainsaw crews local youth corps, as a kindergarten paraprofessional, and most recently served as liturgist and music director at Annunciation Catholic Church in Denver. Jorge currently lives in Golden, Colorado.
Sorry I’m left wondering did the unhoused people living in the encampments in the trees get removed by another gang of workers? Or did the unhoused people and their trees get to remain for ever in that city?
When something is unpleasant to do, do we leave the job to someone else? Or do we stand in solidarity with those who are fighting for justice, in this case to protect the life of the trees which are homes to some people.
Trust is a vital glue for an ethically healthy worldbuilding.