Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There are many Traditions in the Church that dates back to the very beginning of the church. One of them is the name of the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anne. They don’t appear in the scriptures, but early writings and churches named after them in the first centuries confirm that tradition. Since they were the grandparents of Jesus, in the Church, their day was always seen as “Grandparents’ Day,” although never official…until now! And there is plenary indulgence granted under the usual conditions (confession, communion and praying for the Pope) for anyone who devotes “adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty (such as the sick, the abandoned, the disabled and other similar cases.)
Back in January, Pope Francis announced the institution of World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will take place each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne. He expressed the importance of this celebration by saying that “grandparents are often forgotten, and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on what the elderly have received.” Since Pope Benedict, the Church has always spoken against the “throwaway culture.” As everything in society nowadays that is no longer needed, or it has become “obsolete” becomes disposable and it is thrown away. Unfortunately, this is not limited to consuming goods only. Slowly our society has become Utilitarian, in which the value of things or people is defined by the amount of benefit it brings to a majority or if they are useful. Because of that mentality, many of the elderly are being pushed aside from society and often also by family members. Instead of being a wealth of wisdom, they are labeled as “burdensome.”
In the Christian tradition, as many other ancient cultures around the world, the elderly have always had a place of honor. Not only because of their wisdom and life experience, but also, as the Pope says, they “remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.” It is so important to value everything that the elderly have learned in their lifetime. Even though one may argue that society has changed since their time and what they say is no longer relevant, however, our moral values have not changed. Life lessons are always precious, because difficult situations arise regardless of the culture. Not only that, but now history avoids us repeating the same mistakes as those who came before us have done. As Winston Churchill once said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.
There is one more important factor of the presence of the elderly in our lives. Often, they are one of the greatest examples of faith in our families. Whether our own grandparents or the elderly attending mass, they have always been the strongest people our churches. I imagine that most of us have memories of our grandparents praying the rosary every day, attending mass regularly and dressing their Sunday best, going to confession every first Saturday and so on. Therefore, this connection with the elderly is more than just treating others with love, it is a great source of help for our own salvation.
I would like to say a brief word for the grandparents and the elderly. Please be proud of who you are!!! Do not try to fit in with today’s culture or to measure yourselves by today’s standards. It is like a vintage car or a vintage wine that is rare and is valued much more than something brand new and it cannot be compared with it. Do share your life stories, growing up in a different times, the difference between now and then, the famous Blizzard of ‘78. Also, do not be shy to invite them to pray, to share the wealth of your spiritual life with them as well. Today the kids don’t really have super heroes anymore, so be their heroes! I think that just by saying that in your times there was no cellphones and flat screen TV’s you will already make it!
May the Blessed Mother always accompany you, and, by the intercession of St. Joachim and Anne, may God be always your companion to strengthen and console you! Count always on our prayers.
Father Steven Clemence