Bishop O'Connell preaches his homily during the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly Mass he celebrated July 25 in St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, Toms River
Bishop O'Connell preaches his homily during the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly Mass he celebrated July 25 in St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, Toms River
" Families create so many memories. Why? Because happy families are all about love. "
I remember going shopping as a boy with my mother and grandmother – I guess, maybe 60 years ago – when I asked my Mom to buy me a toy. We had just finished having lunch at the W.T. Grant Department store restaurant counter – remember those? – and I pleaded with her, “please get me this.”  My grandmother interrupted, “June, you are spoiling that boy,” and my Mom accepted her observation telling me to put the toy back. As Mom continued her shopping, distracted from us, Grandmom took my hand and whispered, “Go get it, I’ll buy it for you.” So much for being “spoiled.”  

It’s funny what you remember from so long ago. My Grandmom only lived another year or so after that, but I have not forgotten her since then. I close my eyes and can see her, I can hear her voice with just a touch of a German accent. She always wore an apron – even under her coat to church. And she always wore a coat, even in summer! Grandmom was always ready to bake, at a moment’s notice. And she was good at it, pies and cakes every Sunday.

Families create so many memories. Why? Because happy families are all about love. And grandparents have a special place in the heart of the family and its memories.  We cherish the place they hold.

Today is the first “World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly,” established this year by Pope Francis, to honor our beloved grandmothers and grandfathers and all the elderly. In his talks and writings over the years, the Holy Father speaks so tenderly and lovingly about grandparents and the elderly, often recounting stories from his own youth. He uses words like “gift” and “treasure” to describe their place in our lives.

Our Scripture readings for Mass today have a common theme, especially the First Reading from the Old Testament Book of Kings and the Gospel of John, as they talk about food and about feeding the hungry. There was a famine in Israel at the time the prophet Elisha lived, nine centuries before Christ, and so it is easy to understand how grateful the Israelites were to receive bread. The author tells us that there even “was some left over.” A miracle!

Our Gospel from St. John relates a similar story. Jesus and his disciples had attracted a great deal of attention and crowds were following them. They were hungry and Jesus wanted to feed them.  We have the famous miracle of the five loaves and two fish – 5,000 people were fed and there 12 baskets of leftovers. A miracle!

We find a link between these readings today in the words of the Responsorial Psalm: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”

Three things come to mind as I consider the Scriptures for Mass today: 

first, God sees and understands us; he knows our situation and circumstances in life since “the Word became Flesh,” he walked among us; second, God responds to us in our situation and circumstances in life – he may not always give us what we want but he always offers us what we need, and then some! And third, God’s generosity knows no bounds; it is freely shared with more to spare. When we accept his love, even more love is offered.

There is a connection and message here for grandparents and the elderly.

God understands us as we age.

“It makes no difference,” Pope Francis writes, “how old you are, whether you still work or not, whether you are alone or have a family, whether you became a grandmother or grandfather at a young age or later, whether you are still independent or need assistance. Because there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. You just need to set out and undertake something new.”

God responds to us as we age. God never forgets us. He wants us to stay close to him, to talk to him in prayer from our hearts. He reminds us as does Pope Francis, that the Lord “is with us always.”

God is a generous God. As we grow older and look back upon our lives, we can see his hand at work and all the blessings he has shared with us along the way.

This special day honoring grandparents and the elderly reminds us of two special responsibilities:

First, we should never ignore or forget those who have grown old in our midst. They want and need and deserve our love and respect.

Second, we who have enjoyed length of years and life-long blessings, must share our faith and trust, our wisdom and experiences with those who have or will come after us, daughters and sons and neighbors who are raising their children – our grandchildren – to take their place in this world.

This celebration is filled with abundant grace and blessings for us all, the old as well as the young and everyone “in between.” Just as God provided food for his hungry people in our readings today, God continues to provide nourishment for us in the people who have been and still remain part of our lives – people who have made our lives possible. Let’s give thanks for grandparents and the elderly as we recall the words of our Holy Father:

“The Holy Spirit stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly” whose “voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and preserves the roots of the people … old age is a gift and grandparents are the link between the generations to pass on to the young the experience of life (Angelus Message, January 31, 2021).”

May this day be yet another blessing for grandparents and the elderly and an opportunity for all of us to show them our love and gratitude – gratitude to and for those who are with us as well as to and for those who have gone before us to be with the Lord. May God bless us all!