The Gift of Grandparents
Our calendar year begins on January 1, yet, many feel that the year begins when school opens and summer leisure winds down. It is a good time, then, to take a look at life and appreciate the gifts we have. In the spring of this year, Pope Francis published Rejoice and Be Glad, a new Apostolic Exhortation, a letter in which he asks us to think about ways in which we can grow in holiness: “to be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest, or a religious.” We are all called to be holy “by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.” Pope Francis gives examples of what we might do if we want to be holy. He speaks, for example, to those who work. “Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters.” And, he speaks to parents and grandparents whom he encourages “to be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.”
Pope Francis, as he ages himself, sees a very special role for grandparents in the handing on of our faith. Last December, when celebrating his 81st birthday, he took his party to the Vatican children’s hospital, Bambino Gesu, a short ride from the Vatican. He carried with him his birthday pizzas to share with the children. But he also spoke to them and to their parents and caregivers. He told them he wanted to come to the children because he wanted to be in the midst of the “joy of children.” He called that joy a treasure that we should nourish and care for. But he was also aware that children need to grow up well. And, in that regard he encouraged those listening to him to make sure that the children had the opportunity to “speak with their grandparents.”
These two very different points in life have much to teach each other. “Grandparents have memory, they have roots, and it will be grandparents who give roots to the children.” Our elders hold the memory of belonging to a people, the memory of faith, and the memory of values. Pope Francis sees in those who are now among our older members the ones “who transmit history to us, who transmit doctrine, who transmit the faith and give it to us as an inheritance.” Speaking of his own experience, the Pope told a group of young people in Milan to listen to their grandparents: “They have the wisdom of life. And with that wisdom, they teach us how to be closer to Jesus. They did this to me.”
This is a truth that I think worthy of reflection and appreciation. Grandparents and our more senior generation do much good work in handing on the faith. They have lived it all their lives. They have drawn strength and hope from the relationship they have with God in Jesus Christ. They see their commitment to living in accord with faith as a value in their lives. And, as something precious to them, they want to pass it on to the young people whom they cherish and love.
In my conversations with young people, whether they be preparing for marriage, or seminarians discerning a call to priesthood, or the youth in our different programs, they often speak of what they have learned from their grandparents and how important the influence of their grandparents has been on their own commitment to live their faith. So often, as well, as I visit our churches to administer the sacraments of initiation, confirmation and first Eucharist, it is our senior generation and our grandparents who are the catechists and the ones helping the children to know of the wonder of God’s love for them. We can truly be grateful for this witness, and we can pray that more grandparents will see the important impact they can have on the future by sharing their own past with their loved ones.
The family is the first Church. It is there that God’s love is lived and spoken of and where children learn of God. In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis reminded us that the home continues to be “the place where we learn to appreciate the meaning and beauty of the faith, to pray and to serve our neighbor.” Parents are the means that God uses for faith to grow and develop. They certainly have a special responsibility in the formation of their children in the appreciation of the gift of faith. How wonderful is it, then, when they have their own parents to help them in this mission. Let us appreciate and affirm the gift and the faith of grandparents and our senior generation who remind us, in their own sharing, of the gift and meaning of faith.
Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, JCD
12th Bishop of Portland