Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd

I am the Good Shepherd. Surely it is fitting that Christ should be a shepherd, for just as a flock is guided and fed by a shepherd so the faithful are fed by Christ with spiritual food and with his own body and blood. The Apostle said: You were once like sheep without a shepherd, but now you have returned to the guardian and ruler of your souls. The prophet has said: As a shepherd he pastures his flock.

Christ said that the shepherd enters through the gate and that he is himself the gate as well as the shepherd. Then it is necessary that he enter through himself. By so doing, he reveals himself, and through himself he knows the Father. But we enter through him because through him we find happiness.

Good Shepherd--Thomas Aquinas - 1 - Christ with sheep on shoulder

Take heed: no one else is the gate but Christ. Others reflect his light, but no one else is the true light. John the Baptist was not the light, but he bore witness to the light. It is said of Christ, however: He was the true light that enlightens every man. For this reason no one says that he is the gate; this title is Christ’s own. However, he has made others shepherds and given that office to his members; for Peter was a shepherd, and so were the other apostles and all good bishops after them. Scripture says: I shall give you shepherds according to my own heart. Although the bishops of the Church, who are her sons, are all shepherds, nevertheless Christ refers only to one person in saying: I am the Good Shepherd, because he wants to emphasise the virtue of charity. Thus, no one can be a good shepherd unless he is one with Christ in charity. Through this we become members of the true shepherd.

The duty of a good shepherd is charity; therefore Christ said: The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. Know the difference between a good and a bad shepherd: the good shepherd cares for the welfare of his flock, but the bad shepherd cares only for his own welfare.

The Good Shepherd does not demand that shepherds lay down their lives for a real flock of sheep. But every spiritual shepherd must endure the loss of his bodily life for the salvation of the flock, since the spiritual good of the flock is more important than the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the salvation of the flock. This is why the Lord says: The good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his physical life, for his sheep; this he does because of his authority and love. Both, in fact, are required: that they should be ruled by him, and that he should love them. The first without the second is not enough.

Christ stands out for us as the example of this teaching: If Christ laid down his life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

This excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Exposition on John’s Gospel (Cap 10, lect. 3) is used in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings, Monday of the 21st week in Ordinary Time.

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Thomas Aquinas, St.

In the middle of the thirteenth century, a noble family named Aquinas from Southern Italy had a plan for their son. Thomas had been born in 1225 (in the lifetime of St. Francis of Assisi) and had received his initial education from the Benedictines at the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, founded by St. Benedict himself. His parents knew he was religiously inclined, so his father planned to pull a few strings and get Thomas appointed Abbot of Monte Cassino, a position with power and prestige befitting the son of the Count of Aquinas.

But before taking such a step, the Count sent him to the newly founded University of Naples to get some further education. While there, Thomas was inspired by the members of a new, unconventional religious order called the Dominicans or Order of Preachers. Over the protests of his parents, Thomas, joined this new group. The young friar grew rapidly in holiness and knowledge of the things of God. It helped, of course, that he had St. Albert the Great as one of his principal teachers. Ultimately, Thomas Aquinas was appointed professor of Sacred Theology at the University of Paris where he taught alongside a Franciscan professor named Bonaventure.

Though not sufficiently appreciated until the Council of Trent three hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1274, ultimately came to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church and as indeed one of the greatest Catholic teachers of all time. He wrote commentaries on various books of the bible as well as the multi-volume apologetics work “Summa Contra Gentiles.” Yet St. Thomas was first and foremost a man of prayer, a true disciple of Jesus and Jesus’ disciple Dominic. His study flowed from his prayer and his profound holiness made it possible for him to discern the wheat from the chaff in the intellectual currents of his day, and integrate that wheat into the established fare of the Catholic Tradition. His most notable achievement along these lines was to show how many of the ideas of the pagan Greek philosopher, Aristotle, could be utilized with great benefit in Catholic theology, an idea that was quite controversial in his day.

St. Thomas’ greatest theological work, the Summa Theologiae is, though unfinished, nevertheless a masterpiece of theology that covers all aspects of Catholic doctrine from the Trinity to Morality.

 

St. Thomas died in 1274 (the same year as his Franciscan Colleague, St. Bonaventure) while on his way to participate in the Ecumenical Council of Lyons. As early as 1277, his work was attacked by a number of Catholic theological faculties and remained under a cloud until the time of Council of Trent some 300 years later. Pope Leo XIII, in the late 19th century, recognized that the achievement of St. Thomas in the area of truly Christian philosophy and theology had to be emulated in the modern era if the Church was ever to meet the challenge posed by atheism and secularism.