Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I listened attentively while cooking dinner at my parents’ house to my mother reading Bible stories to my 3-year-old son. They were at the part of the story of the sons of Jacob, when Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and bring his torn robe to their father to show him evidence of Joseph’s demise. “But where is the blood?” my son asked, making reference to the fact that the brothers had killed a goat to bloody the coat implying that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal (Genesis 37:31).
I then had the experience parents sometimes have of my heart swelling with gratitude and love that something I have taught my child has stuck. All the times my husband or I have read Scripture aloud during my son’s brief existence have made him familiar with at least some part of the Bible (albeit a gory part). The reading of Sacred Scripture has become a central part of our family life. My husband and I know from experience the depth of encountering God in his Word, and our main prayer for our children is for them to become holy through knowing and loving God.
St. Jerome claimed that, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” The fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the document on the Word of God, Dei Verbum, express a desire for all Christian faithful to have easy access to Sacred Scripture (DV 22). Further, we are urged most fervently to pray with the Scriptures, for when we converse with God, we come to know Him (DV 25).
God gave us this beautiful gift in revealing himself to us through Scripture:
For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (DV 21)
It is because of this that my husband declared to me one evening four years ago that he wanted our family to read more Scripture together. His proposal sounded almost undoable: to read one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament aloud every day. At that rate we would read the whole Old Testament every six years and the New Testament every year. I was a little skeptical that it would work. At the time our children were six, four, two and in utero. But we decided to give it a try. We decided that the best time to read it would be after dinner. My husband usually finishes his meal before the rest of us, and we ideally sit quietly while we finished our dinner and dessert.
Over the past four years it has been a really amazing experience. We have gone through the New Testament three times, and are still in our first go through of the Old Testament. We read on the nights that we have family dinner (at a reasonable time), which for us that ends up being most nights. I also would like to note that we edit certain parts to make them appropriate for young ears.
I love that my familiarity with Scripture has increased, and that I am hearing whole books when I had only heard the snippets of books at Mass. I quizzed my older children about it, and they said that they have gained a lot from hearing Scripture daily as well, and recounted to me parts of Scripture that they remembered well. I was impressed with their exegesis the last time we read Revelation. Clearly, my 3-year-old remembers things as well. We try to discuss what we read each time and connect the Old Testament to the New. Lately, the book of Isaiah has connected directly to our eldest’s study of ancient history.
This time of Scripture reading is in addition to the other religious education and prayer formation that our children receive and the Scripture they have heard at daily Masses. Until a recent chronic illness of mine, my family used to go to daily Mass several times a week. When we don’t go to Mass I try to take a prayer time with my children where we sit down after lunch and read the daily Mass readings and have time for quiet reflection. All of these things I hope lay a foundation for my children to have a strong love for God as they come to know him through his Word and to understand Scripture through the Tradition of the Church. I trust that God will reach out to their young hearts and draw them to his.
Two chapters of Scripture a day may actually be undoable for every family, but I want to encourage families to prayerfully consider what would work for their family. Perhaps start with the daily readings, or pick one book of the Bible to read aloud together. Plan a time to do it and then implement your plan. Make it a New Year’s resolution (It is not too late in the year to start something new). Pray for God to speak to you through the Scripture. Do not be afraid to read his Word together; if he is calling you to it, it will work out.