By Sonja Corbitt
We home school our kids. We took our oldest out of public school in second grade for academic and social reasons that seem unique to our state and county. He graduated high school a year early, went on to get a degree in historic preservation, and right after, got a real-estate license. He’s twenty years old as I write.
We still home school our youngest. He leans toward engineering, and I can’t wait to see what he gravitates toward, since I love physics, myself.
As important as education is, academically speaking, what was most important for my husband and I in rearing our boys, was and has always been our faith. I personally know and have experienced that “faith comes through hearing, and hearing, the word” (Rom 10:17). I searched God’s heart for how to instill a love for the Scriptures in my kids, and this is what He shared with me.
Connected by LOVE
Nobody loves the Word the way Mary loves the Word. To instill a love for the Word in our physical and spiritual children, we, ourselves, must follow her example; only then can we impart a love for the Scriptures to our kids. How does Mary LOVE the Word?
In an address in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis once compared our ability to hear the voice of God speaking directly to our individual circumstances with that of the Blessed Mother, calling Mary the “mother of listening.”
In his address, Pope Francis follows Mary through her personal practice of attentive listening, outlining how practically and beautifully she illustrates the traditional steps of lectio divina. She LOVEs the Word of God so that it comes alive within her and is born into the world, and she guides us with a sure hand in how to LOVE the Word ourselves and teach our own kids to do the same.
First, Mary Listens to the word of God.
“What gave rise to Mary’s act of going to visit her relative Elizabeth? A word of God’s angel. Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son . . . (Lk 1:36).
“Mary knew how to listen to God. But be careful: it was not merely ‘hearing’ a superficial word, but it was ‘listening,’ that consists of attention, acceptance and availability to God.
“It was not in the distracted way with which we sometimes face the Lord or others: we hear their words, but we do not really listen. Mary is attentive to God. She listens to God” (emphasis added, Address at St. Peter’s Square May 31, 2013).
St. Catherine Emmerich says when Mary receives the word of God at the annunciation, she is alone in silence, praying for the promised Messiah. Mary is attentive and available, and she accepts God’s answer to her prayers through her “yes” of cooperation: she receives the Person of His Word.
Is “listening” simply reading the scriptures? If I read passage after passage, book after book of the Bible, have I really prayed if I have not discerned God as a Person there, and adjusted my life to what I have heard? Mary goes further than simply hearing or reading the word in a cerebral way that does not penetrate or move her. She gives it life by obeying, or observing, its meaning.
Pope Francis continues, “Mary also listens to the events, that is, she interprets the events of her life, she is attentive to reality itself and does not stop on the surface but goes to the depths to grasp its meaning. Her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is already elderly, is expecting a child: this is the event. But Mary is attentive to the meaning. She can understand it: ‘with God nothing will be impossible’ (Lk 1:37).
“This is also true in our life: listening to God who speaks to us, and listening also to daily reality, paying attention to people, to events, because the Lord is at the door of our life and knocks in many ways, he puts signs on our path; he gives us the ability to see them. Mary is the mother of listening, of attentive listening to God and of equally attentive listening to the events of life” (emphasis added).
Mary listens every day in deliberate silence – the “language” of God. She observes the circumstances and relationships in her life through the word of God she hears. She ponders its meaning in His presence, and rises to obey it. Mary’s simple, daily routine is ripe with observance, pregnant with life and meaning.
Jesus also followed this template for listening to God by observing the events and circumstances of His life. He sought secluded spaces to consider how and where and in whom the Father was working, and He joined Him there:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20).
Am I available to God’s word every morning, or distracted through activity, noise, and lack of discipline? Do I read it and hear it with a heart that searches for Him in my relationships and circumstances, or am I just pushing through it to check it off my list? What relationship to the Bible am I modeling for my kids?
Where will the word I that read this morning connect with my circumstances, relationships, habits, and desires today? Do I obey that word when I observe its perspective on my life?
When our mother of listening receives a whisper of a word from God in her morning prayer she hugs the secret close.
Going over and over the reality in her mind, she touches it timidly and unwraps it with equally unspeakable thrill each time. Looking at its significance from every possible angle, replaying the angel’s words repeatedly, jumping up and down and twirling around in her soul until she’s dizzy with the implications, she “ponders it in her heart.”
And it is incarnated.
That this unspeakable thing has happened draws a stream of praise, and poetry, and stupendous irony fizzing out of her, spreading out in a pool of song that runs up the sides of the hills of history like a wave.
On her way to obey what she has heard and interpreted, Mary prays back to God her understanding of His word. Her excitement, her awe, her humility, her bliss at being included in such a glorious way in His sweeping, saving plan for all of history is preserved forever in the Church’s scripture and liturgy.
“He who sings prays twice,” St. Augustine said. The word of God that Mary has listened to and observed erupts from her in The Magnificat. This is Mary’s Song. Hers is the song of the whole Church.
As Mary entrusts her heart to God in LOVE, He entrusts His Word to her, and she gives birth to that Word in the world, entrusting Him to me and you.
At the wedding in Cana, too, Mary brings the Word of God to bear on the practical events and problems of her day and evening. She observes the difficulty of a young married couple at whose wedding feast the wine runs out; she thinks about it.
She knows the Word intimately; to Him she verbalizes the problem; she entrusts it fully to Him: “they have no more wine” (Joh 2:3). Mary listens; she observes; she verbalizes; she entrusts; and a miracle occurs.
LOVE the Word®
Where is God at work in the circumstances and problems in our kids’ lives? C.S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” Where is his pain? Could He be at work there? How will they know if we are not modeling a love for the Word ourselves?
In what matter or relationship does He want their cooperation? What do the daily readings say about that today? How do we teach our kids to read and LOVE the Word? We imitate Mary.
I used and taught this method with my kids, and they continue in it today: Listen, Observe, Verbalize, and Entrust. As we ourselves go to Him in the scriptures on a daily basis, and teach our kids to do so as well, we can use this helpful acronym to discern His activity and will and listen, there, to His voice. We observe our relationships and circumstances and how they connect to the word we receive each day in the Mass readings.
We verbalize back to God our thoughts and fears and feelings about all of it, what response we think He desires, what we believe He wants us to do. And we fully entrust all that concerns us and our kids to Him.
“The word of God is living and powerful…” (Heb 4:12). When we LOVE the scriptures the way Mary, “mother of listening,” teaches us to, the scriptures come alive in our reality. We bring the power of God’s word to bear on our relationships and circumstances, and as it begins to root and thrive in us and our children, we experience Mary’s “magnificat” – the thrill of offering the living word to the world.
About the author:
Sonja Corbitt is the Bible Study Evangelista and creator of the LOVE the Word® Bible study method and journal. The best-selling author of Unleashed, Fearless, Fulfilled, and How to Pray Like Mary, her weekly CatholicTV and radio show and other Bible study resources are created with you in mind – bites of spinach that taste like cake – to help you “love and lift all you’ve been given.” What’s an “evangelista”? Find out at biblestudyevangelista.com.