The value and importance of grandparents in the family was the theme of Pope Francis’ catechesis during Wednesday’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Firstly, Francis affirmed that he was able to identify with grandparents as he is of the same age. “When I was in the Philippines, the people called me ‘Lolo Kiko’, or rather, ‘Grandpa Francis’”, he said, emphasizing that although society tends to reject the elderly, the Lord does not: on the contrary, He calls us to follow Him in all stages of life as old age too “contains a grace and a mission, a true vocation”.
“However, it is not yet the time to ‘set down our oars’”, he said. “This period of life is different to those that preceded it, without doubt; we must also reinvent it a little since our societies are not yet ready spiritually or morally to accord it its full value. Previously, in fact, it was not normal to have so much free time; today far more so. And even Christian spirituality has been taken a little by surprise, and has had to delineate a spirituality for the elderly. But thanks to God there is no lack of testimonies from elderly saints!”.
The Pope gave the example of the elderly Simeon and Anna, who awaited the arrival of Jesus in the temple for many years, and who were resigned to dying before seeing Him, even though that long wait had occupied all their lives and had been their most important commitment. However, when Mary and Joseph arrived in the Temple in compliance with the Law, the burdens of age and their long wait disappeared in an instant. “They recognized the Child, and discovered a new strength, for a new task: to give thanks and to bear witness to this Sign of God. Simeon improvised a beautiful hymn of jubilation and Anna became Jesus’ first preacher, as Luke tells us in his Gospel: she began ‘to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem’”.
“Dear grandparents, dearly elderly”, exclaimed the Pope, “let us follow in the wake of these extraordinary old people! Let us too become poets of prayer: let us acquire the taste for seeking new words, re-appropriating those that the Word of God teaches us. The prayer of grandparents and the elderly is a great gift for the Church. It is a great injection of wisdom for all society, especially for those who are too busy, too encumbered, too distracted. Someone has to sing the signs of God for these people too, to proclaim the signs of God. Let us look at Benedict XVI, who has chosen to spend the final part of his life in prayer and in listening to God. Olivier Clement, a great believer from the last century, of Orthodox tradition, said, “A civilization where one does not pray is a civilization in which old age no longer has any meaning. And this is terrifying: more than anything we need the elderly who pray, because old age was given to us for this”.
“We are able to thank the Lord for the favors received, and fill the emptiness of ingratitude that surrounds us. We can intercede for the expectations of the new generations and give dignity to the memory and sacrifices of those past. We can remind the ambitious young that a life without love is arid. We can say to the fearful young that anguish about the future can be defeated. We can teach the young who are too wrapped up in themselves that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Grandparents form the permanent ‘choir’ of a great spiritual shrine, where prayer of supplication and hymns of praise support the community that works and struggles in the field of life”.
Likewise, “prayer incessantly purifies the heart. Praise and supplication to God prevent the hardening of the heart in resentment and selfishness. How sad it is to see the cynicism of an elderly person who has lost the sense of his or her own testimony, who is disdainful towards the young and does not communicate the wisdom of a lifetime! Instead, it is beautiful to see the encouragement that an elderly person is able to transmit to the young in search of the meaning of faith and life. It is truly the mission of grandparents, the vocation of the elderly. The words of the elderly hold something special for the young. And they know this. The words my grandmother wrote to me on the day of my priestly ordination I still carry with me now, in my breviary; I often read them and this does me good”.
“How I would like to see a Church that challenges the throwaway culture with the superabundant joy of a new embrace between the young and the elderly! And this is what I ask of the Lord today: this embrace”, concluded the Holy Father.