Vox Pastoris

following the Shepherd's voice

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Level I Presentation Descriptions: The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd is the image of Jesus that Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi (the founders of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) found that young children of all backgrounds respond to with great joy. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep by name, loves them, and cares for them. The parable of the Good Shepherd is thus the central parable for Level I.

There are four presentations in the subject of the Good Shepherd:

  1. The Good Shepherd
  2. The Found Sheep
  3. Psalm 23
  4. Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd

When introducing the Parable of the Good Shepherd, the catechist tells the children that when Jesus was on the earth, people could tell that there was something different and special about Him. They asked Him who He was, and He told them that He was the Good Shepherd. The catechist then presents the parable as found in John 10:3b-5, 10b-11, 14-16:

"The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers...I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep...I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd."

The reading of the Scripture is accompanied by the presentation of a green sheepfold with a fence around it, a wooden shepherd, and ten wooden sheep. (The figures are two-dimensional, as are all of the figures in parable material. Historical figures are three-dimensional.) The catechist moves the shepherd out of the sheepfold first and then all of the sheep behind him. The catechist alternates reading a few verses with moving the shepherd and sheep until they have gone around the sheepfold and are put safely back inside again.

In the reflection on this parable, the catechist does not tell the children that we are the sheep. Rather, she gently helps them reach this conclusion on their own by asking such questions as, "I wonder who these sheep could be? Do you think Jesus was talking about sheep that we see in the fields?" The children will come to this realization in their own time.

In the Parable of the Found Sheep (Luke 15:4-6, often called the Parable of the Lost Sheep), the catechist and children set up the materials from the Parable of the Good Shepherd together. They take the sheep and shepherd out and then put all of them back in the sheepfold except for one sheep. The catechist then has the shepherd look for the lost sheep, find him, and then carry him back to the sheepfold on his shoulders. The reflection focuses on the protective love of the Good Shepherd and His great joy in finding the lost sheep.

In presenting Psalm 23, the catechist introduces the children to one verse at a time. Usually only verses 1 through 3 are presented at Level I. The psalm is offered as prayer language for the children: King David called the Lord his shepherd, and so can we. We can learn more about how the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep by meditating on this psalm.

In the Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi found the way to link the Parable of the Good Shepherd with the Eucharist. The catechist and children begin with the material from the Parable of the Good Shepherd plus a second round, green base the same size at the sheepfold. This second base represents the church. Together they remember the Parable of the Good Shepherd and begin to have the shepherd lead his sheep out. The catechist then says, "There is a time when the Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name to be with Him in a completely special way. It is at Mass in the Eucharist." The catechist then puts a small altar and altar cloth on the second green base and puts the shepherd on top of the altar. The sheep follow and stand around the altar. The catechist says, "The Good Shepherd wants to give all of Himself to His sheep. In the Eucharist, the Good Shepherd is present as the bread." She places a small paten on the altar. "He is present as the wine." She places a small chalice on the altar. Then she says, "We do not need the statue of the shepherd because Jesus is there as the bread and the wine." The children are given plenty of time to absorb the picture of the sheep around the altar.

At a later time, once the children have realized that we are the sheep, the presentation is repeated as above. The catechist then says, "We know that we are the sheep," and she replaces each sheep with a model of a human figure. One of these figures is a priest. The catechist says, "There is one sheep with a particular mission—the priest. It is his job to say Jesus' words of love from the Last Supper over the bread and the wine." She then reads the words of consecration ("This is my body...This is my blood...") and says, "In these words, we hear Jesus giving all of Himself to us, His sheep." The children thus come to understand that the Good Shepherd whom they have come to know and love calls them to Himself in the Eucharist.

For further reading about the Good Shepherd presentations, see The Religious Potential of the Child, chapters 3 and 9 and pages 79-82, and The Good Shepherd and the Child, chapters 5 and 6 and pages 65-67.

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