The Good Shepherd and Counterwill


"Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers."


I had the opportunity recently to witness for the first time the Catechism of the Good Shepherd presentation on the Parable of the Good Shepherd and I was struck by the above verses. Immediately I saw a parallel to the concept of counterwill. In Chapter 6 of HOTYK, Dr. Neufeld explains that counterwill is a sort of innate defense mechanism which protects the person's free will from unlawful "shepherds." The idea is that everyone is obedient to someone, and this obedience is rooted in trust, and we should not submit to false shepherds who are not deserving of our trust "because [they] work[s] for pay and [have] no concern for the sheep" Jn 10: 13. Their intentions are self-centered, their motives self-serving. Obedience is virtuous only when we are obedient to lawful authority.

The gate, of course, is Christ, and we enter through Him through love of His Cross. Christ is The Good Shepherd, but parents are also shepherds and when our children are attached to us, they follow us because they recognize our voice. Likewise, "they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers." But when a child is peer-oriented, his good instincts are skewed, and his counterwill works against him, against his parents, and he easily becomes lost. His peers become the shepherds he follows, false shepherds who are in it for themselves, and his parents become strangers, the child becomes estranged from them.

In Chapter 15 of HOTYK, Dr. Neufeld writes, "Temporary breaks in the relationship are inevitable and are not in themselves harmful, unless they are frequent and severe. The real harm is inflicted when we neglect to re-collect our child, thus conveying that the relationship is not important to us or, alternatively, if we leave the impression that it is the child's responsibility to restore the connection." The Good Shepherd goes out in search of His lost sheep. He took it upon Himself to restore the connection between God and man by laying down His life, asking no more of us than that we put our faith and trust in Him, and having done so, follow Him..

When parents allow their own self-interest to influence their parenting, and their fragile egos, so easily threatened even by their own children, to dominate their interactions with their children, they risk driving their sheep right into the folds of false shepherds and into the dens of wolves.

If Christ calls His sheep by name at baptism (which is not the only way for Him to call us, but one we know of for sure), then the counterwill is God's gift, designed to protect us from being seduced by false shepherds. It is incumbent upon parents to take seriously the goodness of the child's will--to trust that, by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, the Holy Ghost is leading this child who knows His voice and follows it. If we wish to assist the Holy Ghost, we must enter by the gate, by the Cross. Only by uttering the words, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," can our voices be united with that of The Good Shepherd. Only then do we have the lawful authority with which to lead our children. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep; He does not force His sheep to lay down their lives for Him, as do the false shepherds.

Maria Montessori, who so understood and loved the child's littleness, and on whose work the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is based, wrote in The Secret of Childhood, "Since adults are also a part of a child's environment, they should adapt themselves to his needs." It is the height of hypocrisy and immaturity for adults to expect children to do what they themselves are not willing to. She writes, "A child readily obeys an adult. But when an adult asks him to renounce those instincts that favor his development, he cannot obey. When an adult demands such a sacrifice to his own personal interests, it is like attempting to stop the building of a child's teeth when he is teething. A child's tantrums and rebellions are nothing more than aspects of a vital conflict between his creative impulses and his love for an adult who fails to understand his needs. When a child is disobedient or has a tantrum an adult should always call to mind the conflict and try to interpret it as a defense of some unknown vital activity necessary for the child's development."

Only faith will enable us to understand this. Only through love of the Cross and embracing our own vulnerability and all the suffering associated with it, will we ever understand the secret of childhood, and what it means to become as little children. Only when we have entered through the gate can we shepherd our children's hearts. And it is the triggering of their counterwill that is the sign to us that something is yet lacking, that there is blood of ours yet to be poured out for them--either by patient, gentle herding, or by embarking on the long journey in search of the lost one.

2 comments:

Marcia said...

R! another great thought and eye opening post! Yes yes yes is all I can say. You have put together all the same things that clink around in this brain, but so eloquently.
Let us always be those sheep that hear the voice of the GS and obediently follow.

Owner of Homeschool Faith and Family Life Website said...

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Thanks for sharing these wonderful insights.

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Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

"...to turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."