The Smell of Their Sheep - Extension Magazine Article

Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima

Author, theologian and professor Tim Muldoon

In 2012, Bishop Tyson started an innovative program in his mission diocese in which seminarians spend their summers working alongside their future parishioners — picking apples, harvesting asparagus or working in packinghouses. These seminarians are up at 2:30 in the morning, working nine- to 10-hour days, six days a week, just like their fellow workers. They are spread throughout the 17,000-square-mile diocese.

Bishop Tyson recently talked about this unique formation opportunity with Extension magazine. Following is an edited version of his remarks.

The majority of our people in the diocese are Hispanic. If they’re in the city, many of them work in fruit warehouses, and if they’re in rural areas, they are working in fields and vineyards.

I thought it was really important that our seminarians rub elbows with these people, who maybe don’t make it to Mass on Sunday. Pope Francis, in his first homily to the priests of the world, said that we need to let the oil of our ordination run to the margins, to the edges of life, and that a good shepherd should have the smell of his sheep.

I want our seminarians to really know the lives of our people. They need to get the smell of the sheep and the dirt under their fingernails. They need to understand their heartaches, challenges and joys. It’s really important for the seminarians to know how we’re incarnating the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this little part of the Church.

Catholicism is the leading incarnational Christian faith because of the Eucharist — Jesus Christ and all of His divinity and His humanity in the elements of bread and wine. These people have very hard lives, and if we’re really going to be Christ to them, we have to know what is on the plate with the bread and the wine. I believe the more we know our people and their lives, then we can celebrate reverently, and with greater integrity, the offering of bread and wine and the sacrifice of the Mass.

I can’t say the offertory prayers — the fruit of the earth, the work of human hands — without thinking about our workers. It’s very graphic out here when we elevate the bread and wine because this truly is the labor of our people. So this summer placement for seminarians is not about picking and packing fruit; it’s about being side by side with the people we’re trying to reach. Some of the workers are at Mass on Sundays and some aren’t. There are so many folks who are picking on Sunday.

So we’re saying, ‘If you can’t always come to Mass, then we’re here to be with you right on the working line.’ For many of them, working with the seminarians is the first time they have talked to anybody from the Church.

Next summer, we’ll be doing more to bring the Church to the people — we’ll be doing Sunday Masses the following Wednesday in the fields. Our priests are very busy on Sundays, often in multiple sites, so realistically to add field Masses requires an additional day with travel and distance. Certainly we want people to come to church, but if you can’t come to church, we’ll bring the Church to you.

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