Fr Billy Swan
Next Sunday, 25th July 2021, marks the first ‘World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly’. The date coincides with the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of Mary and the grand-parents of Jesus.
To mark this important day, Pope Francis has written a message entitled ‘I am with you always’ – words which come from the risen Lord before his Ascension to assure us of his presence among us at all times. In words of encouragement, Pope Francis’ desire is that elderly people hear those words again with fresh conviction and to feel the closeness of that supportive presence through the Church: ‘The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!’
These words of comfort and consolation are timely for older people as we emerge slowly from a time of pandemic. Lockdowns led to increased isolation and loneliness suffered by many elderly people who could not regularly see their children and grand-children. We think also of the elderly in nursing homes deprived of visits for so long and their fear of contracting the virus and dying alone.
Francis also assures us that because the Lord always accompanies elderly people, there are always new opportunities for us to grow in his love: ‘He is close to us with new possibilities, new ideas, new consolations, but always close to us. You know that the Lord is eternal; he never, ever goes into retirement’.
One area of new possibilities is how grand-parents and older people can share their wisdom and faith with younger generations and how younger people can share their energy and zest for life with the elderly. On several occasions, Pope Francis has spoken about 'inter-generational solidarity’ and the need for generations to stay close and grow together in faith.
For many grand-parents this is not easy. Many carry with them a sadness and a feeling of failure because their children no longer practise the faith and in some cases no longer believe. If they have not succeeded in passing on the faith to their children, how can they hope to pass on that gift to their grandchildren?
One possible way is sharing with younger generations what you love about your faith. Look into your heart and discover what it means to you and then tell them why. Don’t be afraid to do this. Only by talking about what we love will our words be convincing and persuasive to family members who are sceptical or who are not sure what faith is all about. Talk to them about what you love about the faith and how it serves the good. Once we do that, we will find the confidence and the words to speak and be an example to them that points to the possibility of faith.
In his message for this day, the pope links this task of sharing the faith with dreams, memory and prayer. Concerning dreams, Francis writes:
‘The prophet Joel once promised: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men will have visions” (3:1). The future of the world depends on this covenant between young and old. Who, if not the young, can take the dreams of the elderly and make them come true? Yet for this to happen, it is necessary that we continue to dream. Our dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity can make it possible for our young people to have new visions; in this way, together, we can build the future’.
He then talks about memory and emphasises how the elderly are the guardians of the memory of every community and so need to be cherished for who they are. Francis puts it this way:
‘Keeping memory alive is a true mission for every elderly person: keeping memory alive and sharing it with others. Edith Bruck, who survived the horror of the holocaust, has said that “even illuminating a single conscience is worth the effort and pain of keeping alive the memory of what has been…These kinds of memory can help to build a more humane and welcoming world. Without memory, however, we will never be able to build; without a foundation, we can never build a house. Never. And the foundation of life is memory’.
Finally, a word on the importance of prayer and how the elderly contribute to the mission of the Church by their persistent prayer. Francis quotes his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI who said that: ‘the prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others’.
To dream, to remember and to pray. On these three paths can grand-parents walk side by side with their grandchildren in a way that leads to growth in faith, hope and love. May all of our grand-parents and elderly friends feel encouraged by the celebration of this day and be reminded of the indispensable role they still play in the lives of the young. May they always know the Lord’s loving closeness to them and find a way to share with younger generations all that they have discovered and love in their gift of faith.
PRAYER FOR FIRST WORLD GRAND-PARENTS AND DAY FOR THE ELDERLY
I thank You, Lord, for the comfort of Your presence: even in times of loneliness, You are my hope and my confidence. You have been my rock and my fortress since my youth! I thank You for having given me a family and for having blessed me with a long life. I thank You for moments of joy and difficulty, for the dreams that have already come true in my life and for those that are still ahead of me. I thank You for this time of renewed fruitfulness to which You call me. Increase, O Lord, my faith, make me a channel of your peace, teach me to embrace those who suffer more than me, to never stop dreaming and to tell of your wonders to new generations. Protect and guide Pope Francis and the Church, that the light of the Gospel might reach the ends of the earth. Send Your Spirit, O Lord, to renew the world, that the storm of the pandemic might be calmed, the poor consoled and wars ended. Sustain me in weakness and help me to live life to the full in each moment that You give me, in the certainty that you are with me every day, even until the end of the age. Amen.