“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’” (John 10:14-16)
April 26, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“The yak is a long-haired bovid found throughout the Himalaya region of south Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and as far north as Mongolia and Russia.” (Wikipedia) I’m sharing this so you can more fully appreciate my surprise at recently discovering myself to be, as a hospital chaplain, not only pastor to medical professionals and the souls for which they care, but also to a budding yak farmer.
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The discovery was made when Facebook connected me with Dr. Tim Jolis, a young Emergency Medicine Physician serving in our hospital’s ER. Quiet and unassuming in his maroon scrubs, we’d been passing many an early morning as his night shift was concluding. But then a whole new Tim emerged when I discovered a posting, a plea for funds actually, as Tim and his brother, Oliver, took a sharp turn away from medicine. Let an excerpt from their posting, sponsored by the global funding site Kickstarter, tell the story:
“My brother and I snuck into Tibet. We lived among monks. Sometimes we slept out in the high plateau. At night, the sky was so clear it was like floating in the stars. We learned about yak husbandry, and the importance of yaks in Tibetan culture. We found our dream: to create a yak dairy in Northern California.
“There is nothing else like the taste of yak cheese. Its flavor is strong and clean. The protein content is much higher than cow or goat cheese. Cheese-making has been our hobby, but it's time it became our business. The money from this project can buy three yaks, large scale cheese making equipment, and a partnership with a local dairy farm in Paso Robles, California. This local agreement will allow us to ensure the yaks have humane care. As the business grows, we will be able to purchase our own land. By making this partnership, we will have more time to focus on hand crafting the cheese.
“This project has the potential to create jobs, and improve the environment through locally grown food. But most importantly to my brother and me, this is an art form. We hope to create something beautiful and delicious, and to share it with others. “Cheese-making requires patience and attention to detail. Without our experience making cow and goat cheeses, and passion for our project, making high quality yak cheese would not be possible. But we are determined. This is going to be a lifestyle as much as a business.” (www.kickstarter.com/projects/545219452)
Who knew that Dr. Tim’s dream was to create yak cheese, something beautiful and delicious, and to share it with others? While I’ve watched him dutiful in his doctoring for the past several years, I couldn’t have imagined what was stirring within his heart. Indeed, while I thought I was pastoring medical professionals and the people they serve, I can now add a budding yak farmer to my flock.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’” (John 10:14-16)
As Jesus so clearly reminds us, there are both card-carrying sheep within the flock and those with a far more tentative affiliation. It’s what I encounter every day at the hospital, those who have a clear church connection and those who don’t. With my ministry focusing primarily on Catholics, I spend most of my time with those who sheepishly—they are sheep, after all—describe themselves as fallen-away Catholics. That is, they haven’t been to church in a very long while. And not surprisingly, it’s they who call most loudly and desperately for a priest when death threatens. Indeed, church-going Catholics seem to weather life’s battering storms with far more ease than those who have wandered from the fold. Yet, it’s just such as these whom Jesus reaches out to carry home on his shoulders, leaving the 99 within the security of the flock as the lost are sought.
Listening to the stories of these self-described fallen-away Catholics has become a primary focus of my hospital ministry over the years. Sadly, these wandering sheep have often experienced from the church more harsh judgment than gentle compassion in a time of great need. Very often the catalyst for this break with the church has been over an irreconcilable marital situation. It amazes me and affords me great satisfaction, though, when just listening patiently to their stories can be the beginning of a reconciliation, the first steps toward a homecoming.
As Pope Francis continues to consult with Catholic laity and clergy around the world in preparation for the continuing Synod on the Family, there is much hope that the church’s many wounded members might experience more the gentle compassion of a shepherd than the harsh verdict of a judge. Our Pope seems most anxious to embrace those on the periphery, those who feel they don’t fit, those who are afraid to come closer. It’s these very sheep who are most dear to him.
As daily I wander hospital corridors, I am grateful for the wounded who entrust their stories to me, grateful that this might be a chance for a homecoming. For, indeed, there is no living creature not part of God’s flock—not a yak, not a budding yak farmer.