The youngest children lead us to the deepest mysteries of our faith. As they fall in love with the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32) they help us discover that the kingdom of God is a mystery of growth and transformation. Like the mustard tree, which hosts birds in its branches, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was born from a tiny “seed”, an unexpected encounter with children and God’s Word. Dr. Sofia Cavalletti was a privileged witness to that encounter, and to the children’s total engagement with the Mystery being revealed, and it changed her life. Beginning in 1954, she and Gianna Gobbi began a “long work” together of tirelessly observing children and seeking to put in their hands the particular announcements from the Bible and the liturgy that seemed to most deeply satisfy their spiritual hungers. Their indicator that the “food” being offered truly matched the need and capacity of the children, was the children’s joy, a peaceful kind of joy that led them to further contemplation, especially through their personal work with the corresponding material, and to prayer.
We present the Good Shepherd parable found in the 10th chapter of John, to children with the greatest respect for the text, without adding anything other than what is found there. The text, which is so rich theologically and so literately valuable, needs no embellishment or additions on our part. We restrict ourselves to highlighting the parable’s various elements, and to helping the children savor their richness. The points on which we linger, for it is these that most enchant the children, are above all the personal love and presence of the Good Shepherd: He calls each one of His sheep by name He knows each intimately even if there are many sheep; He calls his sheep and gradually they become accustomed to the voice of their Good Shepherd and they listen to Him. In this way a precious relationship is established; a thread of love binds the sheep always more closely to their Shepherd. The Shepherd’s voice is powerful and supremely patient; it never tires of calling and reaches out even to those sheep who are far away, beyond the sheepfold. Slowly they too turn to hear His voice and they gather together into one great flock. The Shepherd knows the needs of His sheep, and He guides them to good pastures, walking ahead of them to show the way and to be the first to confront any danger should it arise. So the sheep are safe and peaceful with their Good Shepherd.