The February 2009 edition of Intercom is now available. Read their lead article – Fountains of Faith – Grandparents’ and view the Contents page.

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Material published here with kind permission of the editor.

February 2009 issue

Click on link to view Intercom cover Feb 2009

Click on link to view Intercom contents Feb 2009

Click on link to view article below as pdf – Fountains_of_faith – Grandparents

Fountains of Faith: Grandparents

Bernie Moloney highlights the role of grandparents
in passing on the faith to their grandchildren

I did not know my grandparents. They were dead long before I was born. But I did have the blessing of knowing John. He lived and worked with my family for twenty-five years, and for another twenty-five years before that he lived and worked with my mother’s family. And so, as I was growing up, John was a grandfather figure in my life. I still vividly recall, and draw from, the wisdom and the lessons he taught me about right living.

For the past fifteen years I have told each and every group of my Sixth Year students about John. The story is a winner with them. They can relate to the John-and-Bernie story through their experience of their own grandparents and grandparent figures.

Because of my story about John countless students and past students have told me about their grandparents (or grandparent figures) alive or dead. I have learned a lot from what they have told me. I would like to share it with my brother priests and others engaged in ministry within our parish and school communities.

Not every grandparent-grandchild relationship is rosy. Yet, by-and-large, the young experience the senior family members as admirable, non-threatening, and benign. There is little of the tension that can be a periodic part of the teenager-parent relationship. Grandparents’ homes are usually perceived as safe havens.

Grandparents tend to have more time to spare than do parents. By nature they are less hurried. He’s always there.’ She was always at home when I called.’ They listen to me.’ These are common comments about grandparents. Others are: They’re great for the prayers.’ He’d never miss Mass.’ I say the Angelus with her every evening.’ They said he was a great neighbour.’

This brings me to a crucial point. I believe that within the Church in Ireland today grandparents have a major role to play in passing on a living faith to the rising generation. In general, the grey-haired generation (of which I am a member) have a faith that has been tested and seasoned by life, still know and say prayers, appreciate the Mass and the sacraments, know the core Christian doctrines and try to live by a set of principles that echo the Gospel and the Commandments. Many have seen their own sons and daughters become slack about some, or all, of this menu. And so they wish to reach out and in some way compensate their grandchildren for this slackness.

While they are still with us, the time has come for the Church community to consciously harness the reservoir of faith that resides in our senior members. First of all, we need to highlight for them and explore with them the power for good that lies within themselves. In the world of Christian faith, they are not past it’. We need to alert them to their good standing and credibility in the eyes of their grandchildren, and encourage them to openly share their faith and prayer lives with the young. Simple strategies are needed that will give the seniors platforms from which to reach out to the juveniles.
True, parents are called to be the first’ and best’ teachers of their children in the ways of faith. However, an increasing number of parents are lukewarm about this vision of their role. Yes, we can and must try to engage with them and re-energise the flame of faith. The Do This In Memory programme comes to mind. But what is to happen where there is no such ignition’? In more senses than one, grandparents may well be the ones who have the spark’. Where parents are committed to the faith, the grandparents can freely give a rich faith supplement.

There is a new social factor to be considered too. Unfortunately, there is a steady stream of parents separating and an equally constant stream of marriages ending in divorce and, often, in re-marriage. In these circumstances – painful for them – more and more children (if they live within easy and regular reach) tend to see their grandparents as poles of stability in their lives. In some instances, grandparents become, in effect, partial guardians of their grandchildren. Here, thirty years on, grannies and granddads find themselves once more called upon to be prime teachers of the young in the ways of faith. Of course, in such circumstances, grandparents need to tread a delicate path to avoid conflict with their own children that could in turn damage their relationships with their grandchildren.

The Gospel of Matthew ascribes the name Jacob to the father of St. Joseph. The Gospels are silent about Mary’s parents, although tradition gives them the names Joachim and Anne – feast day 26 July. Accordingly, these important figures in the religious inheritance of Jesus never feature in our Sunday scripture readings nor do they, by extension, in our homilies. The Gospel of Luke introduces Simeon and Anna. At his presentation in the Temple, they become grandparent figures in the infant life of the Saviour. This Gospel is read on the feast of the Holy Family, Year B. The Church devotes the feast of the Presentation of the Lord to a celebration of consecrated life, yet there is surely space within it for highlighting the faith-giving role of grandparents and grandparent figures. (Many in consecrated life undoubtedly fulfil the latter role.) Or, the Sunday closest to it and to the 26th July might well be appropriate times, annually, to celebrate with grandparents their distinctive faith mission.

There is no mention of grandparents in the liturgical texts for the sacraments. Yet, grandparents go to great lengths to attend the key events of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation and Marriage. These are opportunities to endorse their faith formation role. For instance, at baptisms it is apt to invite grandparents to cloth the infant with the White Garment. At the end of each ceremony I make a point of encouraging the parents to actively enable their child to grow up knowing his/her grandparent(s) and to let the child be touched by gran’s’ faith and wisdom. In addition, I urge them to tell the child the life-story of any gran’ who has died. A prayer of Blessing for Grandparents after the prayers of blessing for mother and father (and godparents) is very much in order.

Blessing of Grandparents:

From generation to generation, God has been faithful in love and mercy towards his people.
May he bless you (N.,N.,), grandparent(s) of this child.
During the years to come, may you delight to see him/her grow in the ways of the Lord.
May you support him/her with your prayers, and share with him/her your faith and wisdom.
{From their place within the communion of saints
may deceased grandparent(s) [N., N.] bestow prayers and love upon this grandchild},
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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For the great majority of young people their most painful encounters with death occur when grandparents die. The ensuing loss and distress – indeed, devastation – can pose a major challenge to the faith of a youngster. Granny was a good Catholic. How could God let her suffer so much?’ How could a good God take granddad from us?’

One feature that has struck me is the number of young people who date their cessation of Mass attendance to a grandparent’s death. Their fragile faith may have been unable to withstand the loss of the gran’ and/or a parent’s faith and religious practice may have been torpedoed by the loss of their own father or mother and so the whole family may have given up’.

Let me end by offering two prayers that reflect on the nature of senior-juvenile relationships. Readers might find them useful.

Prayer for Grandparents

Lord God,
you have known my family for years and years.
Today I bring to you my grandparents:
they’re the parents of Mam,
they’re the parents of Dad,
and this makes them special to me.

They saw my Mam when she was born,
they saw my Dad when he was born.
They knew that I was coming into the world
and they saw me when I was born.
Being proud of me, they have prayed for me,
offered words of advice and watched me grow.

Lord, they’re older than Mam
and they’re slower than Dad.
So, please, give them your very best care.
Give those who have died a room with the saints,
and may those who are alive keep me a room in their hearts,
in their homes and in their dreams.
Amen.

Prayer for Grandchildren

Lord, I love my grandchildren;
each one gives my old heart a lift.
I smile to myself when I see my children’s traits
break out their children:
the same hair or a hand gesture,
the same laugh or roguish eye,
the same freckles or frowns,
the way they strike a ball.

Lord, I am proud of them, yet I ponder and I worry:
what will become of them in the years I’m not around?
I hope they will grow strong in spirit,
will overcome set-backs, and reach towards high dreams.
May they walk tall and be always honest.
My secret hope is that they will think kindly of me
and see in me some little things they would wish
to become part of themselves.
Yes, Lord, this last bit would mirror my happiness in heaven.
Please grant it.
Amen.

Fr. Bernie Moloney is chaplain at Cashel Community School, Co. Tipperary.

Intercom

Intercom is a pastoral and liturgical resource magazine published by Veritas, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Communications.

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