By David Gibson | Catholic News Service
"A plant without roots does not grow." Pope Francis was thinking of grandparents when he made that statement recently in Tbilisi, capital of the country of Georgia.
In the pope's lofty, inspiring view, grandparents fulfill a necessary role in families by linking generations and making grandchildren aware -- through "their words, their affection or simply their presence" -- that "history did not begin with them." He spoke of this in "The Joy of Love," his 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family.
Grandparents represent a family's memory, while helping orient the family toward its future. That is the view of Pope Francis, who may be today's leading proponent on the world stage of grandparenthood's virtues.
I suspect most grandparents want to fulfill the role described to them by the pope. They willingly would serve their family as a font of memories that matter. Their question, though, is how and when to do this.
I confess I am no grandparenthood expert. But I am an experienced grandfather, with grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to nearly 15.
That age range itself reveals one of grandparenthood's complexities. Many grandparents find themselves called, in virtually one and the same moment, to devote caring attention to children whose delight it is to play in the age-old ways of toddlers and to teens who want little more than to immerse themselves in iPods and electronic games.
Some grandchildren love school; others, not so much. Some might spend every waking moment outdoors if they could; others much prefer the indoors.
What are grandparents to do? Planning a family activity involving a number of grandchildren can tax the imagination.
But I am amazed, I confess, by how many children's movies I have seen over the past decade! I should also confess that like millions of 21st-century grandparents I am grateful when an older grandchild comes to my rescue after my smartphone or laptop misbehaves.
If no two grandchildren are alike, neither are any two grandparents. There really is no grandparenthood rulebook or checklist to follow.
Upon first becoming grandparents, I am certain that many follow the example set long ago by their own parents.
Many, I also am certain, are astonished to discover how much they love their grandchildren. Exactly where this love should lead is a grandparent's dilemma.
It is not uncommon in our highly mobile culture for grandparents to live far away from grandchildren. I knew of one new grandmother who for months resolved this situation by driving several hundred miles each way almost every weekend to spend time with her newborn grandchild.
Other grandparents are thankful in the internet age for a program like Skype that allows them at least to "see" children and grandchildren via long-distance visits.
The fabric of grandparenthood is woven of numerous diverse strands. Some become grandparents at a quite young age. Others, with children marrying at later ages nowadays, may not feel particularly young when their first grandchildren arrive.
Some grandparents are employed full time. Others are limited in their activities by health or income issues.
Countless grandparents in varying walks of life share in rearing grandchildren by taking care of them one or two days a week or even daily while a parent goes to work. Could society get along without them?
Yes, grandparents come in all sizes and shapes, so to speak.
The untold story about grandparents involves their large role as sources of stability within their larger family, even financial stability. As the final report of the October 2015 assembly in Rome of the world Synod of Bishops observed:
"Grandparents frequently collaborate with their sons and daughters in economic matters, the upbringing of their children and the transmission of the faith to their grandchildren."
Among the best-known grandparents of our time, though she was not actually "of our time," is Pope Francis' paternal grandmother, Rosa. He recalled her on Pentecost eve in 2013 as "a woman who explained to us, who talked to us about Jesus, who taught us the catechism." She "loved me so much," he has said.
The story of his family involved growing up in a setting where "faith was lived in a simple, practical way," Pope Francis said.
Our era is "the time of grandparents," he believes. He said when addressing participants in the Diocese of Rome's 2016 pastoral conference, "Let our grandparents share and tell us their dreams so that we can have prophecies for the future."
Raising children always is a work in progress. So grandparents, like parents, sometimes struggle along when it comes to knowing how to serve as good models of adulthood and faith for a family's newest generation.
Grandparents, of course, are not their grandchildren's parents. Usually this is good news, suggesting to grandparents that they have entered a rewarding, new and different stage in life.
One hears frequently that children know on some inner and deep level whether they truly are loved by those around them. I confess that I only hope and pray, like other grandparents, that this is true.
Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.
Our elders root us in our Catholic faith
By Kelly Bothum | Catholic News Service
I got rid of one of my grandmother's old lamps last week. After years of use it had become more shabby than chic.
I held onto it because it was a tangible reminder of my grandmother, a fiery woman with a head of red hair to match. She worked as a librarian for a magazine at a time when most women stayed home.
When I was a kid, she'd make a spot for me in the bed and tell stories about what it was like meeting famous people and working with reporters breaking political news in Washington.
She and my grandfather provided more than just after-school help to my mom. They formed a critical part of my childhood. My grandfather picked me up from school. He checked my math homework, taught me how to throw a spiral and made me practice my flute before dinner.
Truthfully, I can't imagine the trajectory of my life without them. I used to joke that my relationship with them was hero worship, but it was so much more than that.
They supported me. They challenged me. (My grandfather once fired me from my job raking leaves because I goofed off.) They cheered me.
Having them in my life will always be one of my greatest blessings.
I'd like to believe this is the kind of relationship Pope Francis has talked about in celebrating the role of the elderly. In a faith that treasures life from the womb to the tomb, it's no surprise that we as Catholics are called to recognize the gift provided by our elders.
With their roots firmly planted, our older loved ones can offer the strength, support and understanding needed for us to grow and add to the branches of our Catholic faith.
Through their wisdom, their perspective and their own example, they teach younger generations that nothing is insurmountable and that God always provides in his own perfect time. Just like God's word, all we need to do is listen.
It's a lesson that all children -- both young and adult -- should heed. And that precious relationship between grandparent and grandchild is such a powerful vehicle for this.
My grandmother drilled me on spelling bee words but she also taught me about my faith. She told me stories about saints I had never heard of and gave me statues of Mary and Jesus to keep in my room.
I was fascinated with the glow-in-the-dark rosary she tucked under her pillow at night. She told me that when she couldn't sleep, she would pray.
It was from her I first heard about Thomas Merton, and it was her dog-eared copy of "No Man Is an Island" that gave me a needed glimpse into how my relationship with God is reflected to the rest of the world.
If faith is a journey, she pointed me toward the most accessible path. I can think of no greater gift.
It's not always easy to value our elders, especially when they are sick, when they are grouchy or when they are nearing the end of their journey on earth. But we must see how precious they are and how our connection to them transcends death. I watched my grandmother take her last breath, but I know she is always with me in the way I view the world.
I am grateful for my relationship with my grandparents and the many ways it grew me as a person. I see it now in my own children's relationship with their grandparents -- the excitement they feel in seeing them, learning from them and sharing special moments with them.
Grandparents are a source of light in a world that can sometimes seem smothered in darkness. I may have given away an old lamp, but I will never lose that light.
Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.
Honor your mother and father -- and your grandparents
By Paul Senz | Catholic News Service
It is widely recognized that the Ten Commandments are organized into two groups: The First through the Third Commandments can be broadly categorized as "You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart" and the Fourth through Tenth Commandments can be categorized as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
While it would be somewhat unfair to think of the commandments as "ranked" by importance, it is certainly noteworthy that the first of those that deal with love of neighbor is "Honor your father and your mother."
First, love God -- then, honor your father and your mother. The first three deal with our relationship with God, and the first of the rest is this.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes this in its section on the Fourth Commandment -- and the fact that it applies not only to parents. In No. 2199, it points out that the commandment concerns kinship between not just children and parents, but also members of the extended family. "It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors."
We can take a cue from the Book of Sirach: "Do not dismiss what the old people have to say; … from them you will learn how to think, and the art of the timely answer" (Sir 8:9). Another translation renders this as, "Do not reject the tradition of the elders which they have heard from their ancestors; for from it you will learn how to answer when the need arises."
As we age and mature, a funny thing happens: Not only do we grow in wisdom, but we suddenly realize that our elders may have been wiser than us all along.
Mark Twain is credited (perhaps apocryphally) with the following sardonic insight: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
While this is certainly rife with sarcasm, the point is well-made. The wisdom of our elders is something we too often disregard or deny in our younger days, but as we age, we come to recognize that wisdom, and realize the honor that is their due.
In Scripture, we encounter many examples of the elderly being lifted up, venerated and respected. Just think of Noah, patriarch of his family, spawning the rejuvenation of human civilization following the deluge.
We are reminded of Abraham, father to God's people; Jacob; Methuselah; Simeon; Naomi, mother-in-law to Ruth; and countless other examples come to mind.
Each of these examples brings us back to the Fourth Commandment. The honor due to our elders is of such importance that God included it among "You shall not kill" and "You shall not have other gods beside me." As Scripture shows us, we would do well to acknowledge and fully live up to this ideal.
Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
"The prayer of grandparents and of the elderly is a great gift for the church!" Pope Francis said during a general audience on March 11, 2015, in St. Peter's Square.
Quoting the Orthodox Christian theologian Olivier Clement, Pope Francis said, "A civilization that has no place for prayer is a civilization in which old age has lost all meaning." Prayer is the "very purpose" of old age, the pope said.
He called on the elderly to be "poets of prayer" like Simeon and Anna the prophetess in St. Luke's Gospel who "awaited the coming of God every day, with great trust, for many years." When they finally saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph, "they recognized the child, and discovered new strength for a new task: to give thanks for and bear witness to this sign from God."
The encouragement of the elderly to the young "seeking the meaning of faith and of life" is the "mission of grandparents, the vocation of the elderly," Pope Francis concluded.[[In-content Ad]]