“Very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren, and ‘many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents.’ Their words, their affection or simply their presence help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an age-old pilgrimage…” (Amoris Laetitia 192)
Christmas, 2011. There was one more gift under the Christmas tree. My husband and I opened it to find a very small Michigan onesie. My daughter and son-in-law Betsy and Jeff announced that they were expecting their first baby; thus began our journey into grand parenting. Today, we have four beautiful grandchildren whom we cherish. As we assumed this new role in our lives it caused us to ask: What is our role as grandparents? How can we pass on the richness of our Catholic faith to our grandchildren?
I can remember hearing “You get to spoil them, fill them with sugar, and send them home.” While there is a fragment of truth to those words, the real truth is that we are given the grace to love these little ones in a way that extends the love we poured out to our own children. We get to preserve the lineage of history and faith from prior generations to all future generations. If we stop to think about it, we are the links that maintain the strength of our families’ legacy of faith.
The challenges of adult children not practicing the faith, the coronavirus and the pressures of today’s secular culture can seem daunting and leave us feeling incapable of making a difference in the lives of our grandchildren. However, we are not dependent solely on ourselves. We are empowered by the Lord’s many spiritual gifts for the important work of shepherding our grandchildren in their faith lives.
The Power of Prayer: A wise friend told me many years ago that she prayed daily for her children, their vocations and their future spouses should they marry. Since then, I have dedicated the third decade of my rosary for these intentions. Pray with and for your grandchildren—show them how to make the Sign of the Cross, pray before meals and bedtime and bless each of them, praying for their individual intentions. Ask them to pray for you. Even if you’re far away, use the time you “see” them on video to do this.
The Power of Presence: Despite the pace of today’s digital culture, there is nothing more important than simply “being there” for your grandchildren. Sit with them, listen to them, be slow to judge. Point out the beauty of creation, how you see God working in their lives and how special they are to you. Show a genuine interest in their lives and interests.
The Power of Perseverance: Stay the course. Even when you don’t experience immediate results. I have talked with many people entering the RCIA process or returning to the Church who mention how their grandma or grandpa were instrumental in helping them to meet Jesus and the saints by remaining steadfast models of the faith.
The Power of Simplicity: My husband and I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land in 2000. Among the holy sites we visited, the Church of Ste. Anne stands out as perhaps the simplest. It marks the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. Its tranquility stands in high contrast to the surrounding business district. It gave us cause to reflect on the life of Mary, and how her parents taught her to live and pray. What a joy it must have been, even if unwittingly, for these holy grandparents to share the sacred stories of the prophets and the prayers with Jesus! Keep it simple and share the stories and prayers of your own faith journey with your grandchildren. Tell them about your first Communion, how you learned to pray and your favorite Bible stories. Let them ask you questions. As Pope St. Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 41)