On Sunday, July 24, 2022, the second World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated throughout the universal Church. Pope Francis chose the theme, “In old age they will still bear fruit.” (Ps 92:15).
While there are many and various ways for one to bear fruit, grandparents can rest assured that evangelizing our grandchildren is high on the list. Psalm 92 also proclaims that, “The just will flourish like the palm tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish…still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just.” Fellow grandparents, I encourage you to allow these words to penetrate your heart such that they inspire in you unshakeable faith that with the Lord’s help, our lives can and will continue to bless our families. These words name the mission: “proclaim the Lord,” and inspire confidence in us that we can accomplish it. When we receive and believe in Jesus, he will fill us with the wisdom, grace and energy to proclaim the Gospel message to our grandchildren.
And while our pursuit of holiness is never complete in this life, we need not reinvent ourselves before setting out on this mission. The ideas shared in the following paragraphs are the simple life experiences of grandparents evangelizing. I hope they inspire ideas in you that meet the needs and circumstances of your family and fill you with the confidence to put them into action. To gain perspective in addition to my own, I put the question to relatives and friends, my sister-in-law Lynda, my dad and a lifelong friend Noel. Here is what they had to say.
Lynda shared how her grandmother Eunice took every opportunity to point out God’s work in their lives and expressed gratitude for the smallest of blessings. “Thank you, Jesus,” she would say continuously throughout each day. This simple prayer left a lasting impression. Lynda said, “Never were we confused about her constant reliance on the Lord.” When tough times come along, Lynda finds peace and guidance by relying on Jesus like Grandma Eunice. Lynda expressed, “We think our kids aren’t listening, but they are.”
Takeaway: Make your faith known, tell your story and shed light on theirs.
My dad shared that at a family wedding reception, a conversation about faith unexpectedly arose with three of his grandsons. He silently invited the Holy Spirit to guide him and then shared the reasons for his faith. As the conversation ended, the young men thanked him for listening to them and not for getting angry when they offered differing views.
Takeaways: Invite the Holy Spirit into our conversations; remember Jesus promised, “He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (Jn 14:26). Create relationships where young people feel free to express their thoughts. Listen respectfully. Someone once told me that people remember how we make them feel more than what we say. I think that’s true.
My friend and fellow grandfather, Noel, is active in Catholic Youth Organization sports. Noel seeks to find ways to ensure the young athletes hear the Gospel message by organizing team Mass and a meal shared once per season, praying before practice and games and encouraging coaches to select a Christian service project that kids can do together.
Takeaway: If health and practical considerations allow, consider getting involved in activities the kids love and find ways to bring Jesus along.
My wife Serena and I have five adult children and six grandchildren. Here are some ideas that have blessed our family life over the years.
Create opportunities for Evangelical Charity:
Include your grandchildren in your Christian service work. For a Summer, I served homeless and needy persons at Manna Meals in Detroit and recruited my adult children to help. Our nine-year-old granddaughter Josie enjoys reading and doing crafts with seniors. Service can be a reentry point for young people who have fallen away from the faith.
Renew or create family traditions:
Our family (mostly Maltese) adopted and adapted the Polish Oplatki Christmas tradition where each of us breaks a piece off a common wafer, but before passing it onto the next person, we express what we are thankful for. Consider bringing back old or creating new faith-based traditions for every holiday celebration.
Make prayer before meals intentional:
Praying before meals is one of the few times we have everyone’s attention. They can’t eat until you’re done! Consider creating a prayer for every family meal with a specific message. For example, for Thanksgiving dinner I like to include this quote from Scripture: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). This is a great way to bring the word of God to the ears of the entire family.
Finally, teach them to pray:
Pray with them and over them. My wife and I encourage couples that we prepare for marriage and baptism to pray with their children beginning when they are babies. Grandparents can do the same. An intimate bond of trust forms when we open ourselves before God and our grandchildren. It is a powerful witness for a child to see their grandparent openly express their faith.
Our grandchildren must know Jesus if they are to “flourish like the palm tree.” Through our witness to them, we can help “unleash the Gospel” in their hearts and the generations to come.