Bookmark and Share

Pope St John Paul II's Catechesis on Jesus, the Good Shepherd
General Audience, Wednesday 9 May 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. In the forty days which separate the Ascension of the Lord from Easter Sunday, the Church lives the paschal mystery, meditating on it in her liturgy, where it is reflected, it could be said, as in a prism. The figure of the Good Shepherd occupies a particular place in this liturgical contemplation. On the fourth Sunday of Easter we read again the allegory of the Good Shepherd, which St John has inscribed in the tenth chapter of his gospel.

The first words of this allegory explain already its paschal significance. Christ says: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10, 11). We know that these words were confirmed during his passion. Christ laid down his life on the cross. And he did so with love. Above all, he wished to respond to the love of the Father, who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3, 16). Carrying out "this charge... received from my Father" (Jn 10, 18) and revealing his love, Jesus too felt, in a particular way, the Father's own love. He affirms this in the same discourse, when he says: "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again" (Jn 10, 17). The sacrifice on Calvary is, above all, the giving of himself; it is the gift of his life which, remaining in the power of the Father, is restored to the Son in a splendid new form. In this way, therefore, the Resurrection is the same gift of life restored to the Son in return for his sacrifice. Christ is aware of this, and he expresses it also in the allegory of the Good Shepherd: "No one takes it (that is, life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (Jn 10, 18).

These words plainly refer to the Resurrection, and they express all the depth of the paschal mystery.

2. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because of the fact that he gives his life to the Father in this way: giving it back in sacrifice, he lays it down for the sheep.

Here we enter the field of a splendid and fascinating simile, already so dear to the Old Testament prophets. Here are the words of Ezekiel: "For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out... I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down" (Ez 34, 11,15; cf Jer 31, 30).

Taking up this image again, Jesus revealed an aspect of the Good Shepherd's love that the Old Testament had not yet divined: to lay down one's life for the sheep.

As is known, Jesus often used parables in his teaching to make the divine truth which he proclaimed comprehensible to men who were generally simple and accustomed to think by means of images. The image of the Pastor and of the fold was familiar to the experience of his listeners, as it still is to the mind of modern man. Even if civilization and technique are progressing by leaps and bounds, this image however is still present in our state of affairs. The shepherds take the sheep to the pastures (as, for example, on the Polish mountains where I come from) and remain there with them during the summer. They accompany them from one pasture to another. They watch them so that they do not go astray and in particular they defend them from wild animals; just as we hear in the Gospel account: "the wolf snatches them (the sheep) and scatters them" (cf Jn 10, 1,2).

The Good Shepherd, according to Christ's words, is just he who "seeing the wolf come" does not flee, but is ready to risk his own life, struggling with the beast of prey so that none of the sheep will be lost. If he were not ready to do so, he would not be worthy of the name of Good Shepherd. He would he a hireling, but not a shepherd.

This is Jesus' allegorical discourse. Its essential meaning lies precisely in this, that "the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10, 11); and this, in the context of the events of Holy Week, means that Jesus, dying on the cross, laid down his life for every man and for all men.

"He alone could do it; he alone could bear a whole world's weight, the load of a guilty world, the burden of man's sin, the accumulated debt, past, present, and to come; the sufferings which we owed but could not pay; 'in his own body on the tree of the cross' (1 Pet 2, 24) 'through the eternal spirit offering himself without spot to God... to serve the living God' (Heb 9, 14).

Such was the deed of Christ, who gave his life for everyone: and therefore he is called the Good Shepherd" (John Henry Newman, Parochial & Plain Sermons, 16).

By means of the paschal sacrifice, all men became his fold — because he has ensured to each one that divine and supernatural life which, since man's fall, owing to original sin, had been lost. He alone was able to restore it to man.

3. The allegory of the Good Shepherd and, in it, the image of the fold, are of fundamental importance to understand what the Church is and what tasks she has to carry out in the history of man. Not only must the Church be a "fold", but she must actualize this mystery, which is always being accomplished between Christ and man: the mystery of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. This is what St Augustine says of her: "will he, who sought you first when you despised him instead of seeking him, despise you, O sheep, if you seek him? Begin, therefore, to seek him, the one who sought you first and carried you on his shoulders. Make his words come true: the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice and follow me" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, Ps LXIX, 6).

The Church, which is the People of God, is at the same time a historical and social reality, in which this mystery is continually renewed and actualized in different ways. And different men have their active part in this solicitude for the salvation of the world, for the sanctification of one's neighbour, which is and does not cease to be the solicitude characteristic of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Such is certainly, for example, the solicitude of parents with regard to their children. What is more, it is the solicitude of every Christian, without any difference, with regard to his neighbour, the brothers and sisters that God puts on his way.

This pastoral solicitude is, of course, particularly the vocation of pastors — priests and bishops. And they in particular must fix their eyes on the figure of the Good Shepherd, meditate on all the words spoken by Christ, and measure their own life by them.

Let us permit St Augustine to speak once more: "If only good shepherds be not lacking! Far be it from us that they should be lacking, and far be it from divine mercy not to call them forth and establish them. It is certain that if there are good sheep, there are also good shepherds: in fact it is from good sheep that good shepherds are derived." (Sermones ad populum, Sermo XLIV, XIII, 30).

4. In accordance with the evangelical discourse on the Good Shepherd, the Church reconstructs every year in her own liturgy the life and death of St Stanislaus, Bishop of Krakow. His memory in the liturgical calendar of the Universal Church is celebrated on 11 April — the date of his death in 1079 at the hands of King Boleslas the Bold; in Poland, on the other hand, the feast of this principal Patron is traditionally celebrated on 8 May.

This year it is 900 years, nine centuries, since the moment in which — following the liturgical texts — we can repeat of him that he laid down his life for his sheep (cf Jn 10, 11). And even if this death is so distant from us in time, it keeps the eloquence of a special testimony.

In the course of history my fellow citizens united spiritually round the figure of St Stanislaus, especially in difficult periods.

In the current year, a year of Great Jubilee, as the first Polish Pope who until a short time ago was the successor of St Stanislaus in the episcopal see of Krakow, I wish to participate in the solemnity in honour of the Patron Saint of Poland.

Together with all those who celebrate this solemnity we wish to approach again Christ the Good Shepherd, who "lays down his life for the sheep", in order that he may be our strength for future centuries and for the new generations."

To the young people:

"My greeting is now addressed to you young people, to you, pupils of elementary and secondary schools, present in such large numbers, to you, boys and girls who have received First Communion or Confirmation! We are in the month of May, dedicated to Mary Most Holy. On the night of 6 December 1876 Don Bosco in a dream saw Domenico Savio, who had recently died. The latter came to let Don Bosco know that he was in Paradise and offered him a bunch of flowers symbolizing the virtues practised in life. At a certain moment Don Bosco asked him: "My dear Domenico, you who practised these noble virtues all your life, tell me: what consoled you most at the point of death?" Domenico thought for a moment and then said: "What consoled me most at the point of death was the assistance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus! Tell that to the boys! Let them never forget to pray to her during their life!" So, love Our Lady, dear young people and children! Pray to her every day! May the Blessed Virgin, invoked, loved and imitated, help you to remain good and happy in a holy way!"

Agli infermi

"Carissimi ammalati! Nonostante disagi e fatiche anche oggi avete voluto essere presenti all’udienza, per stare un poco con il Papa, per esprimere il vostro ossequio e il vostro amore al Vicario di Cristo, per sentire la sua parola e avere la sua Benedizione. Io vi saluto in modo tutto speciale e ringrazio di cuore per la vostra presenza, per le vostre preghiere e per le sofferenze offerte al Signore. Nei momenti di più intenso dolore e di solitudine, ripetete le parole che diceva Santa Bernardetta: “O Gesù, fa’ che ti ami; amami e tienimi sulla croce quanto ti piacerà”; “Vergine Santissima, che io possa restare con te ai piedi della Croce”. Vi sostenga e vi accompagni la mia Benedizione.

Alle coppie di sposi

"Carissimi sposi novelli! Nel vostro viaggio di nozze avete voluto includere Roma e l’udienza con il Papa! Ricevete anche il mio benvenuto e il mio affettuoso saluto! Il vostro sogno d’amore si è realizzato! Fate in modo che la vostra gioia più profonda nasca sempre e solo dal vostro amore fedele, paziente, comprensivo, sacrificato, innocente! La Madonna illumini ogni giorno la vostra vita e vi custodisca nell’amore di Cristo! Con la mia Benedizione."


Before concluding the General Audience John Paul II referred to the anniversary of the tragic discovery of the. lifeless body of the Hon. Aldo Moro in via Caetani.

"A year ago the lifeless body of the Honourable Aldo Moro was found. The tragic conclusion of the shocking event aroused great emotion in Italy and in the world, as also a resounding protest against the blind and irrational violence which, with the killing of the illustrious statesman, had humiliated humanity in its fundamental exigencies of truth and justice.

Today we raise a special prayer for him and for the members of his escort, savagely assassinated in cold blood, as well as for all those who in this year, and even in the last few days, have been victims of unspeakable brutality, which strips our millenary civilization of its human and Christian values. To acts of hatred we must all respond with the message of love, which Christ left us.

May all citizens, with their honest industry, be able to construct in serene and civil community life, a society in which each one may live his own rights fully."

At this point John Paul 11 interrupted his reading of the address, to refer to Paul VI's personal participation in the dramatic affair of the Italian statesman. Before concluding, the Holy Father said:

"Perhaps we must think of all this in the context of today's discourse, in the context of the discourse of the Good Shepherd, and say to Christ: 'We offer you these victims for the peace of the world, for the victory of true justice. For the victory of love over hatred, we offer you these victims!' There is a force in this sacrifice which is very like that of Christ on the Cross"."

Pope St John Paul II's 2nd Catechesis on Jesus, the Good Shepherd
General Audience, Wednesday 16 May 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Today I wish to return once more to the image of the Good Shepherd. This image, as we said a week ago, is deeply rooted in the liturgy of the Easter period. And this is so because it was deeply impressed in the Church's consciousness, especially the Church of the first Christian generations. Among other things, the effigies of the Good Shepherd which come from that historical period, bear witness to this. Clearly, this image is an extraordinary synthesis of the mystery of Christ and, at the same time, of his mission which is always in progress. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10, 11).

For us who constantly participate in the Eucharist, who obtain forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, for us who feel Christ's constant solicitude for man, for the salvation of souls, for the dignity of the human person, for the uprightness and clarity of the earthly ways of human life, the image of the Good Shepherd is as eloquent as it was for the early Christians. These, in the paintings in the catacombs, representing Christ as the Good Shepherd, expressed the same faith, the same love and the same gratitude. And they expressed them in periods of persecution, when they were threatened with death
for avowing Christ; when they were obliged to look for underground cemeteries to pray together and to take part in the Holy Mysteries. The catacombs of Rome and of other cities of the ancient Empire continue to be an eloquent testimony of man's right to profess faith in Christ and to confess him publicly. They continue to be also the testimony of that spiritual power which springs from the Good Shepherd. He proved to be more powerful than the ancient Empire and the secret of this strength is truth and love, for which man always has the same hunger and with which he is never satiated.

2. "I am the good shepherd", Jesus says, "I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father" (Jn 10, 14-15). How marvellous this knowledge is! What knowledge! It reaches as far as eternal Truth and Love, the name of which is the "Father"! That particular knowledge, which gives rise to sheer trust, comes precisely from this source. Mutual knowledge: "I know... and they know".

This is not abstract knowledge, a purely intellectual certainty, which is expressed in the sentence "I know everything about you". Such knowledge, in fact, arouses fear, it induces one, rather, to withdraw within oneself: "Do not touch my secrets, leave me alone." "Malheur à la connaissance... qui ne tourne point à aimer!" ('Woe to the knowledge... which does not turn to loving!' Bossuet, De la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-même). Christ says, on the contrary: "I know my own", and he says it of the liberating knowledge which brings forth trust. For although man defends access to his secrets, although he wants to keep them for himself, he has a still greater need, "he is hungry and thirsty" for Someone before whom he can open up, to whom he can manifest and reveal himself. Man is a person; the need of secrecy and the need of revealing himself belong at the same time to the "nature" of the person. Both these needs are closely united. One is explained by means of the other. Both together indicate, on the contrary, the need of Someone before whom man can reveal himself.

Certainly, but even more he needs Someone who can help man to enter his own mystery. That "Someone" must, however, win absolute trust; he must, revealing himself, confirm that he is worthy of this trust. He must confirm and reveal that he is Lord and, at the same time, Servant of the interior mystery of man.

Christ revealed himself precisely in this way. His words: "I know my own and my own know me" find a definitive confirmation in the words that follow: "I lay down my life for the sheep" (cf Jn 10, 1-15). This is the interior profile of the Good Shepherd.

3. During the history of the Church and Christianity there has never been a lack of men to follow Christ the Good Shepherd. Certainly they are not lacking today either. More than once the liturgy refers to this allegory to present to us the figures of some saints when the day of their feast arrives in the liturgical calendar. Last Wednesday we recalled St Stanislaus, Patron Saint of Poland, whose ninth centenary we are celebrating this year. On the feast of this Bishop-Martyr we reread the Gospel of the Good Shepherd.

Today I would like to refer to another personage, since the 250th anniversary of his canonization falls this year too. It is a question of the figure of St John Nepomucene. On this occasion, at the request of Cardinal Tomasek, Archbishop of Prague, I sent personally to him a special letter for the Church in Czechoslovakia.

Here are some sentences from this letter: "The grand figure of St John has examples and gifts for everyone. History presents him to us first as dedicated to study and to preparation for the priesthood. Aware as he was that, in the expression of St Paul, he would be changed into another Christ, he incarnates in himself the ideal of the expert of God's Mysteries, straining as he did for the perfection of virtues; that of the Parish Priest who sanctifies his faithful with the example of his life and with zeal for souls; and that of the Vicar-General as well, carrying out his duties punctiliously in the spirit of ecclesial obedience.

In this office be found his martyrdom, for defending the rights and legitimate freedom of the Church against the wishes of King Wenceslas IV. The latter took part personally in his torture, then had him thrown from the bridge into the river Moldava.

Some decades after the death of the man of God, the rumour spread that the King had had him killed because he had refused to violate the secrecy of Confession. And thus the martyr of ecclesiastical freedom was venerated also as a witness to the Sacramental seal.

Since he was a priest, it seems natural that priests should be the first to drink at his fountain, to clothe themselves in his virtues, and be excellent shepherds. The good shepherd knows his sheep, their requirements, their needs. He helps them to extricate themselves from sin, to overcome the obstacles and difficulties which they meet. Unlike the hireling, he goes in search of the sheep, helps them to carry their weight, and always knows how to encourage them. He dresses their wounds and heals them with grace, especially through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

In fact, the Pope, the Bishop, and the Priest do not live for themselves but for the faithful, just as parents live for their children and as Christ dedicated himself to service of his Apostles: 'The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mt 20, 28)."

4. Christ the Lord in his allegory of the Good Shepherd utters also the following words: "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" (Jn 10, 16).

It can easily be guessed that Jesus Christ, speaking directly to the children of Israel, indicated the necessity of the spread of the Gospel and of the Church and, thanks to that, the extension of the solicitude of the Good Shepherd beyond the limits of the People of the Old Covenant.

We know that this process began to be realized already in apostolic times; that it was constantly realized later and continues to be realized. We are aware of the universal significance of the mystery of redemption and also of the universal significance of the mission of the Church.

Therefore, concluding this meditation of ours today on the Good Shepherd, let us pray with special ardour for all those "other sheep" that Christ has still to lead to the unity of the fold (cf Jn 10, 16). Perhaps they are those who do not yet know the Gospel. Or perhaps those who, for any reason, have abandoned it; perhaps, in fact, even those who have become its fiercest adversaries, the persecutors.

Let Christ take on his shoulders and press to him those who are not capable of returning alone.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For them all."

Greetings to different pilgrimage groups

"Una particolare parola di saluto rivolgo ora ben volentieri ai folti gruppi di pellegrini provenienti dalle diocesi di Bari, di Todi, di Bergamo, di Vercelli: guidati dai loro rispettivi Vescovi, essi sono venuti a questa udienza per testimoniare il loro affetto al Papa e per trarre dall’incontro gioioso con tanti fedeli, di ogni parte d’Italia e del mondo, incitamento e sprone ad una sempre più generosa adesione a Cristo. Figli carissimi, nell’esprimervi il mio apprezzamento e la mia gratitudine per i sentimenti che la vostra presenza e il vostro entusiasmo manifestano, desidero esortarvi alla perseveranza nei buoni propositi, fatti in occasione della Pasqua: continui ad essere, la vostra, una vita da risorti con Cristo. “Comportatevi come uomini liberi, non servendovi della libertà come di un velo per coprire la malizia, ma come servitori di Dio” (1Pt 2,16). Accompagno questi voti con la mia paterna Benedizione Apostolica, che volentieri estendo a tutti i vostri familiari."

"Un cordiale benvenuto, poi, alle Dirigenti dei Convegni “Venerabile Maria Cristina”, qui presenti per porgere al Papa il loro filiale omaggio e il dono di arredi sacri, raccolti in tutte le regioni d’Italia, per le chiese povere di Roma. Grazie di cuore, carissime figlie, per questo attestato di fede e di pietà cristiana, mentre esprimo l’augurio di sempre felici incrementi per la vostra benemerita Istituzione."

"Un saluto particolarmente sentito rivolgo a voi, bambini, fanciulli e giovani, che avete desiderato di incontrarmi. Vi vedo sempre volentieri perché voi siete, nella società, il fiorire del cuore e della mente; il vostro terreno è sempre fertile. Guardate attorno a voi questo maggio, così bello e così ricco: è la vostra immagine. Conservate a lungo questo luminoso sorriso, con la grazia e la gioia. Ancor più teneramente saluto e quasi abbraccio voi, bambini e bimbe della Prima Comunione, che ancora recate il profumo del primo incontro con Cristo. Nessuna Chiesa al mondo è bella e santa come voi, che siete diventati i tabernacoli viventi di Dio. Vi auguro che nessun vento possa rapirvi i doni, portati nel vostro cuore da Gesù."

"In mezzo a questa cara assemblea, non mancano ammalati e sofferenti: desidero ricordarli e salutarli tutti con particolare affetto, perché essi meritano sempre speciale attenzione, perché hanno bisogno di conforto, perché sono una singolare e preziosa presenza di Dio nel nostro mondo. La mia preghiera non dimentica quanti, nella intera famiglia umana, portano croci pesanti, nel corpo e nello spirito: tutti siano aiutati e rasserenati dalla grazia del nostro divin Salvatore, di cui vuole essere pegno la mia benedizione.

"La mia preghiera, il mio saluto, il mio augurio vanno anche agli sposi novelli, presenti a questo incontro. Questa loro presenza è senza dubbio un gentile atto di filiale affetto verso il Papa; ma è anche un atto di fede: dal Vicario di Gesù Cristo essi attendono un incoraggiante e corroborante auspicio per il loro viaggio nella vita. Siate sempre, tra voi, generosi e sereni, cari sposi, sempre ancorati alla potenza della grazia divina e all’aiuto della Madre di Dio Maria Santissima, che onoriamo con tanta gioia nel mese di maggio. Vi accompagni la mia benedizione.

"Among the many people whom I would like to greet personally there is a group of Christian Brothers who are in Rome for a course of spiritual renewal. I want you and all your confrères to know of my profound esteem for your vocation on behalf of the Christian education and training of the young. But even more important than what you do is what you are: men who have generously accepted a call, Brothers who are totally consecrated to the Lord Jesus, and committed to his Church and to his Gospel. Your first criterion of success is your capacity to love —to love Jesus Christ, his Father and his brethren. Your deepest fulfilment is in holiness of life. The Pope is for you, and Christ is with you — today and always!"