How to abide in Christ through LOVE of the Word
Today’s catechists have access to more resources and training in Catholic ministry and formation than ever before. Yet, as a catechist and former religious education director, I have both experienced and witnessed “teacher frustration,” when all our methods, preparation, and curricula do not seem to be having the impact we want. Is there a “key” to effective ministry and discipleship? Jesus said there is: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The number one surprising yet powerful tool for bearing exponential, eternal fruit and teaching others to do the same is to abide in Christ. We know this, but sometimes we lose sight of the primary importance of our being in Christ, in the flurry of all our doing.
My first question when meditating on Jesus’ words is How do I do that, exactly? How do I abide in Christ? The fruit-bearing passage, later in that same chapter of John’s Gospel, tells us that Jesus says abiding in him is abiding in his Word.
The Fourth Task of Catechesis and Praying with Christ
When exploring the first four of the six tasks of catechesis as the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis present them to us, we discern the foundation for abiding in the Word. The four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church correspond to the first four tasks of catechesis, illustrating the divine pedagogy. Through tasks one and two, we promote knowledge of the faith and the liturgy and sacraments. Through task three — moral formation — we apply faith to our circumstances and behavior. And through task four — prayer — we entrust it all back to God by talking to him about it.
For clarity, we necessarily explore the tasks linearly, but in reality the practice is more of a repeating spiral that mimics lectio divina. As such, the “process” of catechesis is a teaching tool in and of itself that I’d like to simplify to make it easier to practice and share.
Practicing this process for ourselves is the key to bearing the fruit of formation, especially as it relates to the fourth task, “Teaching the Christian How to Pray with Christ.” This is the “sap” flowing through all our efforts, as Jesus taught.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
What I hope to share here is also a convenient tool in teaching children and youth, as well as other adults in formation, how to abide in the Word.
LOVE the Word
Modeled on the Annunciation, LOVE the Word is a lectio method that invites our Blessed Mother to guide us in her own personal “listening” practice. L = listen, O = observe, V = verbalize, and E = entrust.
We learn how to LOVE the Word like Mary from Mary. She teaches us to interpret the Word we hear and read through the landscape of our lives.
In an address in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis once compared our ability to pray with Christ 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 prays with the Word; 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 do the same.
First, Mary listens to the Word of God. Listening is where we “gather the information” the Holy Spirit wants to communicate to us.
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 . . . (Luke 1:36).
Mary knew how to listen to God. Be careful: It was not merely “hearing” a superficial word, but it was “listening,” that consists of attention, acceptance, and availability to God” (Pope Francis, Address at St. Peter’s Square, May 31, 2013, emphasis added).
Mary’s posture at the Annunciation is attentive and available, and she accepts God’s answer to her prayers through her “yes” of cooperation; she receives the Word.
Consider: Is abiding in Christ simply hearing or 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 or read?
Mary goes further than simply hearing or reading the Word in a cerebral way. It moves her. In a type of moral formation, she applies it to her circumstances and behavior. She makes it fruitful for herself and us by 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 (Luke 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 observes the circumstances and relationships of her life through the Word of God she hears. She ponders its meaning in his presence, and she rises to obey it. Mary’s simple, daily routine is ripe with observance, pregnant with life and meaning. As such, she illustrates perfectly for us how to “pray with Christ.”
Consider: Am I available to God’s Word every morning, or am I distracted through activity, noise, and lack of discipline? Do I read and hear it with a heart that searches for him? Do I obey that Word when I observe its perspective on my life?
When our mother of listening receives the Word from God in her prayer, she hugs the secret close. She “ponders it in her heart” and bears the fruit of formation. The Word is incarnated.
That this glorious miracle has happened draws a stream of praise and poetry, spreading out in a pool of song that runs up the sides of the hills of history like a wave. On her way to apply what she has heard and learned, Mary prays back to God her understanding of his Word. Her excitement, her awe, her humility, her bliss at being included in such a shocking way in his sweeping, saving plan for all of history is preserved forever in the Church’s Scripture and liturgy. The Word of God that Mary has received and applied erupts from her in the Magnificat. This is Mary’s song, the prayer-song of the whole Church.
As Mary entrusts her heart and life to God in love, God in turn entrusts his Word to her. Mary gives birth to that Word “made flesh” in the world, entrusting Christ to you and me.
“May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This is the privilege and duty of every catechist. But it can only occur if we are abiding in the Word with Mary, the mother of listening.
Consider: How much more fruitful will my catechesis become when I begin truly abiding in Christ’s Word on a daily basis? How will God use what I learn to teach others through me? In what circumstance, or relationship, is God seeking my cooperation? What do the daily readings say about that?
LOVE: Listen, Observe, Verbalize, and Entrust. As I abide in God in the Scriptures on a daily basis, in the Mass and the lectionary, I can use this helpful acronym to discern his activity and will and listen to his voice. I observe my relationships and circumstances and how they connect to the Word I receive. I verbalize back to God my thoughts and fears and feelings about all of it. I verbalize what response I think he desires from me, what I believe God wants me to do. And I fully entrust all that concerns me and its fruitfulness to him.
When I LOVE the Word the way Mary, my mother of listening, teaches me to, I practice praying with Christ. When I abide in God, my catechesis bears abundant fruit beyond my methods, and I begin teaching others to LOVE the Word too.
Sonja Corbitt is the Bible Study Evangelista, author of Unleashed, Fearless, Ignite, and Fulfilled. Find her current study series with weekly LOVE the Word™ meditations at BibleStudyEvangelista.com.
PHOTO: RENATA SEDMAKOVA/SHUTTERSTOCK
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February 2018.