A homily given by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, July 23 and 24

The Holy Father gives a public audience every Wednesday in Rome.  Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world attend to hear his message and receive his blessing.  Perhaps some of you have had the occasion and opportunity to attend.

Since Easter of this past year, Pope Francis has devoted his audience talks to the theme of being elderly.  At the age of 85, he speaks from the experience and blessing of a long life and, no doubt, wants to share a bit of wisdom about what growing older means to him.

Last year, Pope Francis gave a great gift to the Church when he established the first “Annual World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly” to be celebrated each year on the fourth Sunday of July, close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Ann, the parents of the Blessed Mother Mary and the grandparents of the Lord Jesus.

In creating this annual celebration, the Pope reflected that “grandparents are often forgotten, and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on what the elderly have received.”  He addressed the importance of grandparents and grandchildren getting to know one another: grandparents see their grandchildren dream while young people draw strength from their grandparents to go forward and prophesy (Inside the Vatican, January 31, 2021).”

In my own life, I was blessed to know three of my four grandparents.  They were beautiful and loving people.  Today, here in our parish, I am delighted to see so many grandparents and elder members of this community of faith.  Your presence today, as the whole of your lives, bears witness to the great faith that has brought you to the present moment.  So many years!  So many memories!  So many joys and sorrows!  So, much of a life that has been --- through it all --- God’s gift to you!  And, as our Holy Father has quoted from the psalms, “In their old age, they still bear fruit.” 

As we celebrate the length of years and all the love that has filled them, we also give thanks for them and with them.  It is in that spirit, that Pope Francis invites all the faithful to reach out in love to our grandparents but also to those who may not be grandparents but who have grown old in our midst, including those priests who have served us as our “spiritual parents and grandparents.” An invitation, a visit, a card or gift, a phone call or message, some reminder that they are not alone would be among the best ways to celebrate this “World Day.”

The Holy Father asks us all to let the elderly know that they are not forgotten, that we are grateful for them, that we care for them, that we pray for them, that they continue to be an important part, active part of our lives.  “In their old age, they still bear fruit.”  

This weekend, our readings put before our minds the importance and effectiveness of prayer as their central theme.  In our first reading from the Book of Genesis, we find Abraham begging the Lord’s mercy on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities notorious for their wickedness. Abraham pleads for the people and is amazing for his persistence, and God shows the extent of his mercy.  Luke’s Gospel today echoes a similar theme, inviting us to ask, to seek, to knock on God’s door after sharing the model of the Lord’s Prayer with his disciples.

Prayer is an expression of faith and trust and confidence in God, an expression of our dependence upon him.  Prayer must be a constant in our lives — young and old alike — and not just asking for things, although our needs are surely part of the conversation.  Prayer is maintaining our relationship with God, no matter what our age or circumstances in life.  It’s not difficult at all.  It’s as easy as a thought, a word, a conversation with our God who loves us so much.

Today, we pray in a special way for our grandparents, our elder sisters and brothers, our retired priests all those who have contributed to our lives BY their lives.  We thank God for the treasure that they are.  And we ask them to pray for us, to “bear fruit” in that way.  

With that in mind, I recall the words of Pope Benedict: “The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.” There is something beautiful in that thought.  

The prayer of the elderly is a precious resource, as Pope Francis has reminded us, “a deep breath that the Church and the world need (Message, May 31, 2021).” We need their prayer as we pray for them.