Grandparents Day

Homily from World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly

Brothers and Sisters, I have the pleasure and honour of reading out the homily that Pope Francis prepared for this occasion.

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[H.E. Msgr. Rino Fisichella read the homily Pope Francis had prepared for the occasion]

As he sat down to teach, Jesus “looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him. He said to Philip: ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’” (Jn 6:5). Jesus did not just teach the crowd; he was also alert to the hunger present in their lives. In response, he fed them with five barley loaves and two fish provided by a young man nearby. Afterwards, since there was bread left over, he told his disciples to gather up the fragments, “so that nothing may be lost” (v. 12).

On this Day devoted to grandparents and the elderly, let us reflect on those three moments: Jesus sees the crowd’s hunger; Jesus shares the bread; Jesus asks that the leftovers be collected. Three moments that can be summed up in three verbs: to see, to share, to preserve.

The first one: to see. At the start of his account, the evangelist John points out that Jesus looked up and saw the crowds, who were hungry after having traveled so far to see him. That is how the miracle begins: with the gaze of Jesus, who is neither indifferent nor too busy to sense the hunger felt by a weary humanity. Jesus cares about us; he is concerned for us; he wants to satisfy our hunger for life, love and happiness. In his eyes, we see God’s own way of seeing things. His gaze is caring; he is sensitive to us and to the hopes we hold in our hearts. It recognizes our weariness and the hope that keeps us going. It understands the needs of each person. For in God’s eyes, there are no anonymous crowds, only individuals with their own hunger and thirst. Jesus’ gaze is contemplative. He looks into our lives; he sees and understands.

Our grandparents and the elderly have looked at our lives with that same gaze. That is how they cared for us, ever since we were children. Despite lives of hard work and sacrifice, they were never too busy for us, or indifferent to us. They looked at us with care and tender love. When we were growing up and felt misunderstood or fearful about life’s challenges, they kept an eye on us; they knew what we were feeling, our hidden tears and secret dreams. They held us in their arms and sat us on their knees. That love helped us grow into adulthood.

And what about us? How do we see our grandparents and elderly persons? When was the last time we visited or telephoned an elderly person in order to show our closeness and to benefit from what they have to tell us? I worry when I see a society full of people in constant motion, too caught up in their own affairs to have time for a glance, a greeting or a hug. I worry about a society where individuals are simply part of a nameless crowd, where we can no longer look up and recognize one another. Our grandparents, who nourished our own lives, now hunger for our attention and our love; they long for our closeness. Let us lift up our eyes and see them, even as Jesus sees us.

The second verb: to share. Seeing the people’s hunger, Jesus wants to feed them. Yet this only happens thanks to a young man who offers his five loaves of bread and two fish. How touching it is, that at the heart of this miracle, by which some five thousand adults were fed, we find a young person willing to share what he had.

Today, we need a new covenant between young and old. We need to share the treasure of life, to dream together, to overcome conflicts between generations and to prepare a future for everyone. Without such a covenantal sharing of life, dreams and future, we risk dying of hunger, as broken relationships, loneliness, selfishness and the forces of disintegration gradually increase. In our societies, we have frequently surrendered to the notion of “every man for himself”. But this is deadly! The Gospel bids us share what we are and what we possess, for only in this way will we find fulfilment. I have often mentioned the words of the prophet Joel about young and old coming together (cf. Joel 3:1). Young people, as prophets of the future, who treasure their own history. The elderly, who continue to dream and share their experience with the young, without standing in their way. Young and old, the treasure of tradition and the freshness of the Spirit. Young and old together. In society and in the Church, together.

The third verb: to preserve. After the crowds had eaten, the Gospel relates that much bread was left over. So Jesus tells the disciples: “Gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost” (Jn 6:12). This reveals the heart of God: not only does he give us more than we need, he is also concerned that nothing be lost, not even a fragment. A morsel of bread may seem a little thing, but in God’s eyes, nothing is meant to be thrown away. Even more so, no person is ever to be discarded. We need to make this prophetic summons heard among ourselves and in our world: gather, preserve with care, protect. Grandparents and the elderly are not leftovers from life, scraps to be discarded. They are precious pieces of bread left on the table of life that can still nourish us with a fragrance that we have lost, “the fragrance of mercy and of memory”.

Let us not lose the memory preserved by the elderly, for we are children of that history, and without roots, we will wither. They protected us as we grew, and now it is up to us to protect their lives, to alleviate their difficulties, to attend to their needs and to ensure that they are helped in daily life and not feel alone. Let us ask ourselves: “Have I visited my grandparents, my elderly relatives, the older people in my neighbourhood? Have I listened to them? Have I spent time with them?” Let us protect them, so that nothing of their lives and dreams may be lost. May we never regret that we were insufficiently attentive to those who loved us and gave us life.

Brothers and sisters, grandparents and the elderly are bread that nourishes our life. We are grateful to them for the watchful eyes that cared for us, the arms that held us and the knees on which we sat. For the hands that held our own and lifted us up, for the games they played with us and for the comfort of their caress. Please, let us not forget about them. Let us covenant with them. Let us learn to approach them, listen to them and never discard them. Let us cherish them and spend time with them. We will be the better for it. And, together, young and old alike, we will find fulfilment at table of sharing, blessed by God.

July 25, 2021
by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
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!

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