Attention all Grandparents: Next Sunday is YOUR day. In May we have Mothers’ Day, in June we have Fathers’ Day and now, thanks to Pope Francis’ recent declaration, each year on the fourth Sunday of July we will honor all Grandparents. The official name is World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. The Pope chose that day because it is the closest Sunday to the Feast of Saints Joaquim and Ann, the parents of our Blessed Mother. This year it will fall on July 25th.
A significant number of countries already have set aside a special day to honor their grandparents, either on fixed days or specific Sundays. These include Poland, the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia, Philippines, France, Taiwan, Japan, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Germany, Pakistan, Australia, Sudan and Singapore. Looking at this list makes me wonder why we only just now getting around to it?
In his message in preparation for the day, Pope Francis said he was moved to establish it not just because of the importance of grandparents and the elderly, a theme on which he has often spoken, but particularly because of the neglect and isolation so many grandparents and seniors experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions, nursing-home policies and fear for their safety prevented their being visited and embraced by their loved ones.
The Pope is granting a Plenary Indulgence (more on that subject to come) to all grandchildren who visit, in person or virtually, their grandparents or elderly brothers and sisters in need. He has also asked parishes to thank God for the gift of grandparents, praying for them, and entrusting to him those who have died, particularly during the pandemic.
In his letter and speaking as an elder himself, the Pope asked grandparents and seniors, “What is our vocation today, at our age?” It is “to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young, and to care for the little ones.” He called grandparents and seniors to be a living memory. “Keeping memory alive and sharing it with others,” he stated, “is a true mission for every elderly person.”
He is also summoning grandparents to recognize and be renewed in their sacred calling to be guardians of the connection between their family’s history and salvation history and to pass on to younger generations a clear awareness of their place in the bigger picture.
Memory, he added, is “the foundation of life,” and grandparents have a key role in establishing their grandkids securely, not only in firm familial roots and stories, but also in the history of the faith. The young normally look toward the present and the future and are prone to neglect the past; grandparents are prophets who bring the wisdom and experience of the past to guide the now and not yet.
The vocation of grandparents, he added, is linked to their vocation as apostles. Just like the Lord “never, ever goes into retirement,” he stated, “there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren.”
While calling upon grandparents and seniors to recognize how important their mission is in the Church and society and to keep loving, like Christ, until the end, the Pope was also encouraging grandchildren, children and the young to receive with gratitude the generous giving of their elders.
“The future of the world,” he said, “depends on this covenant between young and old.” Normally elders long for that sacred bond, while the young can be focused so much on looking ahead that they can take for granted, often until it’s too late, the treasure being offered. The official flower for Grandparents’ Day in the United States is, appropriately, the forget-me-not. The Holy Father is hoping by this new World Day of Grandparents to have grandparents and grandchildren renew that covenant and mutually strengthen each other through that bond.
Surveys have shown that 72% percent of seniors think that being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life, 90% enjoy talking about their grandchildren to everyone, and 63% confess they do a better job caring for their grandchildren than they cared for their own. Like so many other grandparents, with more time on their hands than they ever did as parents, many grandparents love spending time with their grandchildren, teaching them, praying with them, playing with them, giving them encouragement and unconditional love, listening to their stories and attending their games, concerts and academic milestones. They are the ultimate good cops, leading by positive example.
The world is so much better because of the way so many grandparents live out their vocation. Together with Pope Francis and the whole Church, we celebrate them, thank them, commit to spend time with them, recommit to the covenant of love with them, and pray for them.
Many of you are familiar with the dreadful statistics telling us that 70% of practicing Catholics do not believe what the Church teaches about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The reasons for this are numerous and complex, all bringing great sadness to those of us who love the Eucharistic Lord.
As the saying goes, we can either curse the darkness or light a candle. With match in hand, starting next Sunday (July 25th), Fr Jerome and I will be taking advantage of the upcoming Sunday Gospel readings from John 6 to give a series of catechetical homilies on the various dimensions of the Eucharist.
If you have not yet read Bishop Olmsted’s excellent letter, I recommend that you do so in preparation for our series. It can be found at dphx.org/veneremur-cernui.
God’s Blessings to all,
Fr Charlie Goraieb