Growing up, I feel in love with a woman who is an actress with red hair, a great smile, and an infectious laugh. That is the one and only Mrs. Julia Roberts.
I jokingly say, if she were to ask me to marry her, I would. In reflecting on today’s Gospel, I came across a commentary that used Julia Robert’s portrayal of Erin Brockovich, a former beauty queen, now twice divorced with three children, who begins to work for a local law firm with now real experience, as a researcher for a case. The film is called Erin Brockovich. During the film Julia Roberts visits plaintiff after plaintiff, family after family in this small town of Hinkley, California and finds that the effects of the local gas company’s industrial pollution in the water supply have been covered up for years and that over 600 people have aliments because of it. She deals with the victims personally and they feel she is a friend. She possesses Good Shepherd qualities: she knows her clients (the sheep), genuinely cares for them, and generously sacrifices for them.
Later in the film a hired professional law firm comes into the picture, but they do not know the clients (the sheep). The professional law firm only cares about the facts about the sheep and the sheep are reluctant to even speak with them, after they have already spoken with Erin. When Erin’s knowledge of the sheep are challenged by the professional law firm, Erin amazes everyone by firing off the names, phone numbers, and details of each plaintiff from memory.
Julia Roberts and her boss in one way lay down their loves for the people of Hinkley, California: all of legal costs for the case spreads their local firm very thin and working round-the-clock takes Erin out of touch with both her boyfriend and her kids. Erin's kids resent the lack of attention from her and her attempts to explain the merits of what she is doing to her eldest son are futile, but, one day her eldest son happens across one of the many documents pertaining to the case. He reads of a child his own age who is very ill, and knowing that Erin's work will help this child, asks her why the child's mother cannot provide him with the help he needs. When Erin explains that it is because the child's mother is also very ill, her son, for the first time, appreciates the nature and importance of his mom’s work. Sorry if am about to spoil the end of the movie for you, but in the end Erin Brockovich wins the case, settling for $333 million which the largest settlement ever in a direct-action lawsuit in US history.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a day in which the Church publically fulfills the Lord’s instruction: “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” It is a day where we remember and pray for the men and women, young and old to hear and respond generously to the Lord’s call to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. When I think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I picture him all dressed in white, nicely groomed, with a sheep around his neck, a bunch of other sheep around his feet. For me it is a very distant image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I want to see Jesus dirty and disheveled hugging and playing with the sheep. As Pope Francis says, we are supposed to take on the “smell of the sheep.” Priests are to be with the people, to closely identify with the trials of life.
Erin Brockovich, was a dirty and disheveled Good Shepherd hugging and playing with the sheep and so was Jesus. Know that the Jesus that you and I believe in and profess as our Savior, is one who knows us and calls us “the children of God”. Jesus is one who literally laid down his life for us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd leads, guides, and influences us as his sheep, not like an outsider, but as one who took on flesh like you and me. Pray that Fr. Phillip, Fr. Richard, Fr. Michael, Fr. Bob, all of the Sisters, and I may be your good shepherds who take on the “smell of the sheep.”
Fourth Sunday of Easter Homily
April 26, 2015
St. Peter's Church
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ