The reason why the image [of the Shepherd] became so precious to early Christianity is that the shepherd was regarded as an allegory of the Logos. The Logos, through whom all things were made, who bears within himself, so to speak, the archetypes of all existing things, is the guardian of creation. In the Incarnation he takes the lost sheep, human nature, humanity as a whole, onto his shoulders and carries it home. The image of the shepherd thus sums up the whole of salvation history: God’s entry into history, the Incarnation, the pursuit of the lost sheep and the homeward path in the Church of the Jews and Gentiles.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 118-9
Reflection – I am reminded, reading this passage, of the work Madonna House does in Winslow Arizona. Our house there has always had as part of its mandate to teach catechism; this has taken many different forms over the years. For the last while, we have offered the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori based catechetical program, to the small children of that town.
The image of the shepherd caring for his sheep, keeping them close, feeding them, and seeking out the lost ones, speaks deeply to small children of all cultures and nations. In Winslow, where there is a measure of poverty among the people we serve, and the forms of suffering that can bring, there is a special poignancy in the imagery. One little girl whose mother was in prison for drugs spent her time in the program working with the parable of the lost sheep, setting up the figures of the sheepfold, the shepherd, and having the shepherd (Jesus) look for the lost sheep over and over again. Another little boy, around Christmas time, took the lost sheep figure and placed it in the manger with Jesus to be safe and warm there.
Deep connections being made—and these children are ages three-five. There is something about this shepherd and his care for the sheep, God and his care for humanity, Jesus coming down from heaven to find us, the experience of being ‘lost’, of losing the way, our home, our safety—all of this speaks deeply to our human experience.
And it speaks to God’s experience too, apparently. It is what He is about; what He is, for us. Ratzinger’s identification of the shepherd with the Logos places this whole beautiful field of images not only in sacred history and not even ‘only’ in Jesus Christ, but at the very heart of the Godhead. God is this shepherd, holding his sheep in his care. It is not some incidental matter; it is the very heart of God towards us to do this.
Since this is from his book on liturgy, this whole business of sheep and shepherds and sheepfolds ties in, then, with the Eucharist. It is there that God in Christ gathers us, there that the shepherd comes to each one of us to seek and search out what is lost, and to gather us home.November is the month of the dead, the month of looking up beyond the here and now to the forever of God’s eternal gaze. The shepherding of God is ultimately not a matter of moving us here or there on the face of the planet, of getting us to do this or not do that; all of that is part of it, but ultimately he is ‘herding’ us towards the eternal pasture, the eternal sheepfold. As we contemplate the mysteries of death and pray for our beloved departed, we look to that, too, to our own final gathering up, the final entry into the place of safety, rest. Our final coming home, and the One who brings us there.