THE SISTERS OF JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERDBuone Pastorine - The Pastorelle SistersIn January 1947 Fr Alberione wrote a circular to the Pastorelle Sisters that was then represented in the series Alla Sorgente, Meditazioni del Primo Maestro, Pastorelle Sisters, Albano, 1969, pp. 56-60. This same text, with minor changes, came to light in an undated typewritten draft. Fr Alberione had embellished it with a remarkable series of changes to transform it into an article for publication in Vita Pastorale. (This review had published a number of articles on the Pastorelle, understandably so, since they were the Sisters for the Parish.) We present here the typewritten text. – Cf. the paper by Elena Bosetti, Un commento di G. Alberione al Vangelo del Buon Pastore, in: AA. VV., Un carisma pastorale. La proposta di Giacomo Alberione alle Suore di Gesù Buon Pastore, Acts of the Seminar on the Charism, Albano Laziale (Rome), 27 June-9 July 1984, pp. 141-164. It also includes a photographic reproduction of this document.
For some time I have noted how God’s grace is working in a good number of them in their family: more light, more charity, more interior work, more pastoral spirit. There is a need for a more intense spiritual life and more active pastoral care. Oh! What a wonderful, holy and meritorious desire: a group of Pastorine1 in many, many parishes! Not a group of ordinary Sisters who work in a kindergarten but a group of Pastorine who understand and fulfill the mission that I depict for you:
Saint Paul introduces Jesus to us as Priest. The Divine Master presents himself to us as Shepherd: Ego sum Pastor bonus (Jn 10:11). This picture completes the magnificent idea of Jesus the Priest and makes us aware of his beneficial effect on people’s souls. It is our concern therefore to study the gospel passage where Jesus sums up his teaching on the duties of the shepherd/pastor. We shall do this, reflecting on each and every word of the text.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and cares nothing 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 (Jn 10:11-16).
JESUS AND US. – Hoc proverbium dixit eis Iesus: Jesus spoke this parable (cf. Jn 10:6). It was Jesus Christ’s custom to speak in parables; and the Prophet (Ps 77:2) had already pointed to this as a sign of recognition of the future Messiah. To have us therefore understand his apostolic ministry in the midst of the world, He made use of this delightful parable.
Let us picture a shepherd: Pastor... ovium: Shepherd of the flock (Jn 10:2) but, let us be quite clear, not a mercenarius... cuius non sunt oves propriæ, a hireling... whose own the sheep are not (id. 12), that is, a shepherd hired to guard a flock which is not his. If it is the owner’s flock, the hireling has little interest in the welfare of the sheep: non pertinet ad eum de ovibus, he cares nothing for the sheep (id. 13). Let us suppose he is the owner of the flock, and thus fully committed to its preservation and well-being.
Jesus is, in fact, such [a person]. His claims on souls are manifold. He is their creator, their provident keeper; He has ransomed them from the devil’s slavery, at the price of shedding his precious blood. Non estis vestri, the Apostle says; empti enim estis pretio magno: You are not your own; J[esus] C[hrist] has ransomed you with his blood (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). There is thus an intimate bond between the Shepherd and souls. They are dear to him. Here priests have a degree of similarity with this divine Shepherd because we can truly say that they are not mere hirelings, destined to shepherd souls in the hope of a heavenly reward, but that they are true pastors and in a certain sense owners of those souls which they generate in grace and nourish with the Sacraments. They must take care of them, therefore, as dear sons and daughters. The Pastorine have a sole mission with the Priest/Pastor; they have the same concerns, the same goal and the same means. Each one according to his or her own role.
The shepherd in the gospel [passage] is not only the owner of the flock, but he is, in addition, the owner of the sheepfold. He can thus enter and leave at will: Qui intrat per ostium, pastor est ovium: He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep (Jn 10:2). There is no need for him to climb through the window, like a thief: Qui non intrat per ostium in ovile ovium, sed ascendit aliunde, ille fur est et latro: He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber (id. 1). On his arrival, the gatekeeper immediately opens the gate: Huic ostiarius aperit: To him the gatekeeper opens (id. 3). To be sure, Jesus did not arrogate to himself the role of Shepherd; it was his heavenly Father who entrusted it to him: Hoc mandatum accepi a Patre meo (id. 18). The Prophet Ezekiel quotes for us the words of the mandate: Suscitabo super eas (pecus) Pastorem unum, qui pascat eas: I will set up over them one shepherd, and he shall feed them (Ezek 34:23). So, too, will it be for us. God, and God alone, calls [persons] to the priesthood; [he, and he alone,] calls [persons] to the religious life as Pastorine.
At first glance it might seem strange that Jesus calls himself not only Shepherd, but also the door of the sheepfold: Ego sum ostium ovium: I am the door of the sheep (id. 7). Yet this is precisely how things are, not only because He is the only door through which souls must pass to be saved: Per me, si quis introierit, salvabitur (id. 9), but also, and with stronger reason, because the Priests and the Pastorine must receive their vocation from Him: Non vos me elegistis, sed ego elegi vos (Gv 15:16).
The first feature of the good Pastor and of the Pastorine is to know their sheep and [then] to make themselves known to them. The former is proof of their concern; the latter is a requirement if the sheep are not to become frightened and fearful of their presence. We find this feature in Jesus to a perfect degree: first of all, Cognosco oves meas: I know my sheep (Jn 10:14). To be noted, too, is that he knows them one by one; to each he has assigned its name, and he calls them by name: Proprias oves vocat nomine (id. 3). Nicodemus2 could only gaze in wonder when he heard Jesus, who was a stranger to him, say: Cum esses sub ficu vidi te: When you were under the fig tree, I saw you (Jn 4:48); yet He could say something similar to everyone. The Pastor and the Pastorina, too, must know their people. The Church bids [us] to see to the status of souls. Woe if we neglect this! It is in both their interest and ours. But then the sheep must know their shepherd: Cognoscunt me meæ (Jn 10:14); and it is interesting to note here that this knowing comes more from hearing than seeing: Oves vocem eius audiunt: the sheep hear his voice (id. 3), sciunt vocem eius: they know his voice (id. 4). The voice of a stranger frightens them: Fugiunt ab eo, quia non noverunt vocem alienorum (id. 5). What a precious teaching [this is]! It is not a matter of knowing the bodies that are visible, but the souls that listen. We must make ourselves known through the catechism and the ministry of the word, which the Master has entrusted [to us].
Every morning the good shepherd must lead the sheep out of the fold: et educit eas (id. 3); he will lead them to fertile pastures and clear waters: [to] meditation and [to the] Sacraments. And the best way to guide them will be to lead them, so that they will fall in behind: Ante eas vadit, et oves illum sequuntur (id. 4). They will not do this with a stranger: alienum autem non sequuntur, sed fugiunt ab eo (id. 5).
Another precious teaching: we must lead our sheep by good example. Woe to us, were we to act as the priests of the old law, of whom Jesus said to the people: Omnia quæcumque dixerint vobis servate et facite; secundum opera vero illorum nolite facere: Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do (Mt 23:3). Was it not perchance said of Jesus: Cœpit facere et docere (Acts 1:1)? He pastured his flock with his words, but first he edified it with his example. Here is the true Shepherd! Here is the true Pastorina. Fortunate flock, that under such guidance pascua inveniet (Jn 10:9).
But the sheep are threatened by thieves on one side and by wolves on the other. The thieves would like to steal them from the fold, to carry them off to their own fold: Fur non venit, nisi ut furetur, et mactet (id. 10). The wolves would like to get their teeth into them and kill them: Lupus rapit et disperdit oves (id. 12). Courage and sacrifice are needed to protect and defend them; and this is the test of the true Pastor and the true Pastorina. Mercenarius et qui non est pastor, cuius non sunt oves propriæ, videt lupum venientem et dimittit oves, et fugit: He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees (id. 13 ). The good Pastor and the real Pastorina, instead, risk their lives and lay them down for the sheep: Bonus pastor animam suam dat pro ovibus suis (id. 11). The application to Jesus is obvious. The minds and hearts of people are under threat. There are thieves who would like to snatch them from Christ’s fold and make them followers of error; and there are wolves who would like to drag them into sin, which is death. The divine Shepherd came into this world to save people from error and sin, thus ensuring truth and grace for everyone. This labor of love imperiled his life. The allies of error and wickedness nailed him to the cross and claimed to destroy him. But the good Shepherd rose again and entrusted his sheep to [his] Priests, to guard them in his stead; they must do this with the same generosity with which He did it: Ego veni ut vitam habeant et abundantius habeant: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (id. 10). It is in this great pastoral role of the priest that the Pastorine become his willing partners and associates.
Meantime, Jesus insists on the great proof of love that he has given for his beloved sheep. No one has ever been in his situation, that is, of being ruler of his or her own life, and thus of sacrificing it by surrendering it of his own will! Animam meam pono pro ovibus meis (id. 15). If he had so willed, he could have saved his life! Ego pono animam meam, et iterum sumam eam (id. 15-18). His life has much more value than ours. To fulfil our duty, we must know how to pay the extreme price, [that is] to lay down our life, were the enemies of the sheep and the divine Pastor to inflict it on us.
There is still another danger for the sheep. It is that one of them may get lost: Si perdiderit unam ex illis: If he has lost one of them (Lk 15:4). It is quite possible! While it was feeding, following its instincts, looking for more plentiful and fresher grass, it strayed from the flock; and down it went from crag to crag, from ravine to ravine, ending up at the bottom of the valley. As soon as the good shepherd notices it, he leaves the other sheep in the fold, and down he goes, too, from crag to crag, from ravine to ravine, down to the bottom to find it: Vadit ad illam quæ perierat, donec inveniat eam (id. 4). When he finally finds his sheep, he does not vent his illhumor against it, nor does he drive it up the mountain path hitting it with a stick, but he takes it lovingly on his shoulders and, rejoicing, brings it back to the fold: Imponit super humeros suos gaudens (id. 5). This is a very lifelike and moving image of the Redeemer, who declared hundreds of times: Venit filius hominis quærere et salvum facere quod perierat: The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10), and he led sinful humans back to the fold of Heaven, from which through sin they were excluded. It is for priests to nurture love for poor sinners and to strive to lead them back to the Church, to grace and to Paradise. But, with a like love, the Pastorine will do this, too, becoming themselves willing victims, in accordance with their sublime vocation.
Sad to say, there is not just one scattered and stray sheep, but thousands and thousands. Thieves and wolves have wreaked havoc in twenty centuries of Christianity. Not, certainly, through any fault of the supreme Shepherd, but through the connivance of the sheep, as well as through the indifference and sloth of some subordinate pastors. Recalling this, Jesus said disconsolately: Et alias oves habeo, quæ non sunt ex hoc ovili: And I have other sheep that are not of this fold (Jn 10:16). Immediately, however, he went on: Et illas oportet me adducere: I must bring them also: et vocem meam audient: et fiet unum ovile et unus pastor (id.). Here is the task entrusted to the Pastor and to the Pastorine. The greater the zeal, the more widespread and quickly will this magnificent ideal of the one fold be implemented. Jesus prayed for this here on earth, and he continues to pray in Heaven: Ut omnes sint unum (Jn 17:21, 23). He makes available to eveyone his treasures of truth, grace and mercy. It is the role of the Pastor and the Pastorine to employ these means for the good of people’s souls and for the triumph of the Divine Shepherd.
Here then the loving invocation of the Angelic Doctor: Bone pastor, panis vere, Iesu nostri miserere: Tu nos pasce, nos tuere, tu nos bona fac videre in terra viventium! Good shepherd, true bread; Jesus, have pity on us; You nourish us, you defend us, you lead us to the eternal joys of heaven (Sequence, Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem).
The Pastorine are: 1) persons who have fathomed the teaching of Jesus and have acquired the love of Jesus; they hold fast in their life to Jesus and are completely and solely his; 2) [persons] who then split up into small groups and establish themselves in a parish, where they consider the parishioners as their own by adoption; [where] they experience being bound to them for life, in death, and for eternity, with the sole aspiration of saving them all[.] As for their apostolate, they act jointly with the pastor in instructing and guarding them; in wiping out evil and sowing good; in converting and sanctifying; leading [all] to the Christian life and to a happy death; starting with the children, teenagers, women... [in unison] with the program of the pastor and of love; to die each day in order to save every day; not being content [to prepare people] for a happy death, but furthermore to offer suffrages for the dead. They will be the sisters, the mothers, the teachers, the catechists, and the consolers in every sorrow, a ray of light and of beneficial and endless sunshine in the parish.
Write to: Sac. Alberione - Via Grottaperfetta - 58 - Roma; or to: Madre Celina Orsini - Suore Pastorelle - Albano di Roma.
1 No correction was made to the typewritten draft either here or later and so the Pastorelle are still referred to as “Pastorine”.
2 In actual fact the reference is to Nathanael, that is, Bartholo-mew. The biblical reference, too, is wrong. It should be Jn 1:48 and not 4:48.