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Let's Begin with the Gift of Listening
by Jeanne Heiberg
The beginning of the school year is a good time to remind ourselves and our students of the importance of listening well.
The beginning of the school year is a good time to remind ourselves and our students of the importance of listening well. To listen well—to really pay attention to what others are saying—is a great gift that we give to others. It has rich rewards.

Those who listen well learn better and are more attuned to the needs of others. They not only acquire knowledge and skills that enable then to do good work and be successful, but they also learn to hear and thus recognize and empathize with the needs of others. Listening well helps us identify opportunities of faith—such as forgiveness, mercy, and genuine love.

Listening to Scripture

Listening to Scripture is one way we hear God’s love. In fact, the words of Scripture actually call us to listen. The prophet Jeremiah cries, “Listen, hear, O Israel, the word of the Lord” (7:2). He tells people how to be just and close to God. “Hear this word, O men of Israel” cries the prophet Amos (3:1), who tells people how to avoid catastrophes that will come if they don’t listen and keep God’s ways. Isaiah declares “Listen now, O house of David” when he proclaims the fulfillment of God’s promises (7:13).

Jesus calls people to listen to him (Mark 7:14), to listen to his parables (Matthew 21:33; Mark 4:3), and to listen to those whom he sends to do his mission (Luke 10:16). Saint Paul tells us that faith comes by listening to what Christ says (Romans 10:17). Jesus’ mother Mary gives us an example of listening when she ponders God’s message from the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:29) and ponders in her heart the things that happen at the birth of Jesus and during their life in Nazareth (Luke 2:19, 51). And the very voice of God tells us to listen to his Beloved Son (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35).

In listening to Scripture, we learn that God provides us with what we need. We learn to thank God for all our blessings. We learn to share our abundance and talents with others. Our faith grows strong when we listen well to what Scripture teaches us.

Outer Listening and Inner Listening

There are two kinds of listening: outer listening and inner listening.

Outer listening involves the mechanisms in the human ear. The ear hears a sound, listens to it, and translates it into a message. In a learning environment, young people use outer listening to hear the message, listen to the message, translate the message—and thereby learn.

Inner listening involves the human heart. Inner listening does not so much focus on what the ear hears and listens to but what the heart hears. This may still be a verbal message; it may be music; it may the actions or facial expressions of others. In a learning environment, young people use inner listening when they listen to more than they actually hear—and thereby learn.

Say to the Children

It’s important to listen well. You give others a very special gift when you listen carefully to them.

Scripture teaches you important things about listening. (Consider sharing some of the Scripture citations mentioned earlier.) It’s especially important to listen to God and to those who help you learn about the Catholic faith—parents, teachers, priests, and the adults you love. It’s also important to listen to one another, especially in class. 

In Scripture you learn that God is ready to provide you with what you need. When you listen to God’s words in Scripture, you hear what Jesus teaches, and that’s how you learn to be loving and faithful. You learn to thank God for what you are given and you learn to share your abundance and talents with others.

(Explain outer listening and inner listening.)

Unfortunately, many people don’t listen well. For example, there are those who want to be the center of attention, and so they don’t listen to what others say. People who don’t listen well find it very hard to learn. They aren’t aware of what others need. They don’t know how they can help others because they have not listened. This does not make them bad people. It’s just very hard sometimes to listen carefully. 

What to do? 

Begin by listening to God in prayer, by reading Scripture, and by letting your heart tell you about love, forgiveness, and charity. This is inner listening.

Also pay attention to parents and teachers. This is outer listening. Unplug your ears at Mass during the Scripture readings and listen closely to the message of the sermon. Listen to the words of songs that are also prayer.

Listen closely to what your friends say about their lives. What do they say they need and want? Do inner listening so you can learn about the needs of others and can offer them help and care. Remember this: You have one mouth and two ears to help you listen twice as much as you speak.

God wants you to use outer listening as well as inner listening so that you can learn on many levels and grow into loving and caring people—just as you were created to be. Let’s make puppets and then act out a skit that will help us understand how important it is to listen to Jesus.

Craft comments: Using puppets to act out Bible stories helps make the stories memorable—and helps students learn to listen well. Make puppets (see Activity below) and act out the story of Jesus, Mary, and Martha (Luke 10:38-42; see script below). Explain how Mary chose to listen carefully to what Jesus taught and how Jesus invited Martha to listen as well.

Encourage students to design and draw their own puppets or to use the patterns provided. When you copy the patterns, enlarge them as needed.

You will need a stage. A piece of material (curtain) stretched between two chairs or a row of boxes on a table will do. As much as possible, let students create their own dialogue for this story, or have them simply move the puppets around as you read the story. Welcome any ad-lib comments the children might have their puppets add throughout the story.

ACTIVITY: Listening Puppets

* cardstock, construction paper, or foam sheets
* craft sticks, straws, or skewers
* crayons, markers
* scissors
* glue and tape
* hole punch
* puppet patterns (CLICK HERE)
* brass paper fasteners (for moving parts), the kind with prongs you push through holes punched in paper and flatten on the other side

1. Divide your class into three groups. Have one group make a Jesus puppet; one group make a Mary puppet; and one group make a Martha puppet. Have every student make a child puppet. (Some students may want to use the patterns that have no facial characteristics so they can make their puppets reflect themselves as much as possible. Also, you may want some children to make a narrator puppet, a Lazarus puppet, and puppets for three Apostles; see “Jesus and Mary and Martha” skit.)
2. Cut out all puppet parts and accessories. Click here for patterns.
3. Assemble puppets by gluing parts together. Or punch holes in each part, align legs and arms on torsos, and secure them in place with brass paper fasteners.
4. Draw, cut, and paste on facial features (if needed) and add clothes and other details as desired. Place props (pot, spoon) in hands and glue in place.
5. Use tape to attach upper third of craft sticks, straws, or skewers to back of puppets. Leave bottom part free for easy handling. (For greater puppet movement and drama, attach craft sticks, straws, or skewers to arms and legs as well. Arms and legs can also be moved by hand as the story progresses.)

Listening Prayer

On your prayer table, place a Bible with three readings marked: one from the prophets, one from Jesus, and one from God (see below). Have candles (use extreme caution) and a plant if you wish. Puppets may also be on the table, unless they will be part of a presentation before, during, or after the prayers. You also may want to play soft instrumental music during the blessing of ears.

Opening Song: “If Today You Hear His Voice” (© 2002 Scott Soper, based on Psalm 95, found in Breaking Bread, OCP) or “I Come to the Garden Alone” (text, C. Austin Miles, 1913, from John 20:11-18; music, C. Austin Miles, 1913; adapt. by Charles H. Webb, 1987. Find words and music at:

Opening Prayer
: Thank you, Lord, for giving us outer listening so that we might hear the words of parents, teachers, wise adults, and one another. Thank you for giving us inner listening so that we might hear what is in our hearts that comes to us in prayer and in the actions and facial expressions of others. May our careful listening help us to learn and grow in faith.
All: Amen.

Reading: In Scripture, the prophets tell us to listen; Jesus tells us to listen; and God tells us to listen. At Mass, when you hear the Word of God being proclaimed, it’s important to unplug your ears and listen carefully. Let’s all unplug our ears now (do a pantomime action of unplugging ears) and listen well to God’s word.

(Read one selection from each group.)
Jeremiah 7:2; Amos 3:1; or Isaiah 7:13 (prophets say “Listen”)
Mark 7:14; Matthew 21:33; Mark 4;3; or Luke 10:16 (Jesus says “Listen”)
Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; or Luke 9:35 (God says “Listen”)

Commentary and/or Skit: Review what you’ve shared with the students about listening. You may also have students read and/or perform the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).

Blessing of Ears to Listen: Turn to someone near you and put your hands gently and kindly on that person’s ears and say, “May your ears be open so that you can listen to God’s truth.” (You and/or the students may want to go to each person present to give this blessing.)
Closing Prayer: Lord, bless our ears and help us to use them to good purpose. Help us to listen with understanding and with our hearts, as Mary did. May we listen to you at all times, especially at Mass, in prayer, and in religion class. Help us to listen well in all our studies. May we listen to our family members and friends, and be aware of the needs around us. May we delight in beautiful music, stories, humor, and good conversation that come through listening. May listening well help us grow in faith.
All: Amen.

Closing Song: “Open My Eyes (Ears, Heart) That I May See” (Clara Scott, words and music. Go to for words and to hear this classic hymn.)

SCRIPT: Jesus and Mary and Martha

Speaking parts: 1 Narrator; 1 Jesus; 1 Martha; 1 Mary
OPTIONAL: 3 Apostles; 1 Lazarus (Mary and Martha’s brother); 2 or more children

Narrator: Martha and Mary were very excited when Jesus came to visit. Mary said:

Mary: Welcome, Jesus. Welcome, John. Welcome, Andrew. Welcome, Peter. Come in. Come in. Make yourselves at home.

Narrator: Martha, Mary’s sister, whispered to Mary:

Martha: Come to the kitchen, Mary, and help me prepare food for everyone.

Narrator: But when Jesus began to teach, Mary went to sit at his feet to listen closely with all her heart.

Jesus: Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Narrator: Mary’s heart glowed.

Jesus: I am the light of the world. You, too, are called to be light in the world.

Narrator: Mary felt her mind and heart fill with light as she listened to Jesus’ words. Meanwhile, Martha was busy in the kitchen thinking that Mary should be there to help her. Martha opened the door to try to catch Mary’s attention, but all of Mary’s attention was on Jesus. Martha tried to call to Mary, but Mary listened only to Jesus. So Martha went into the room and said to Jesus:

Martha: Jesus, tell my sister to come and help me in the kitchen. I am having to do everything by myself.

Narrator: Jesus said:

Jesus: Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things, but only one thing is necessary.

Narrator: Jesus reached out and put his hand on Mary’s shoulder.

Jesus: Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken away from her.

Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts & Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs. Jeanne writes, paints, and gives writing workshops in upstate New York. Jeanne welcomes visitors at her blog:

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