The Church has organized the liturgy—seasons, feasts, readings, prayers, sacramental rites, et cetera—in a way to instruct the faithful, helping them to enter more deeply into the mysteries of the faith present within the sacraments. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the liturgy is “the privileged place for catechizing the People of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1074). A liturgy professor of mine would often spend the first fifteen minutes (at least) of class discussing the liturgical celebration of the day—the saint or event commemorated, the prayers and readings—or the upcoming Sunday’s prayers and readings. This professor would even point out to us how the names and titles of certain celebrations are a source of instruction for the People of God.
Yesterday, August 29, we celebrated the Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist. The deaths of all martyrs can be spoken of as a “passion,” but there are only two passions which are given that title in the Church’s liturgical calendar—John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Why?
We can first consider that these deaths are the only passions recorded in the Gospel accounts. Also, we should take note of how the death of John the Baptist prefigures the death of Christ. As John led others to follow Jesus and proclaimed the truth without fear—even to a high-ranking official—he was arrested and put in prison. Jesus was arrested on account of the Gospel message he taught and the works he performed, which challenged and called out the religious leaders of the time. Others sought to kill John, and King Herod conceded to this death despite his distress. The religious leaders sought the death of Jesus, and Pontius Pilate conceded to this death despite finding the man innocent.
In whole, the life of John the Baptist—his birth, ministry, and death—is so closely connected to the life of Christ and mysteries of the faith that we commemorate his death as a passion. We recognize his death as a model of the summit of Christian witness: participating in the passion of Christ and thus in the work of salvation. In the memorial of John the Baptist’s passion, we hear prayers and readings which point us to this truth. This can be seen if we reflect upon the collect (opening prayer) of this feast: “O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist should go ahead of your Son both in his birth and in his death, grant that, as he died a martyr for truth and justice,
we, too, may fight hard for the confession of what you teach.”
The liturgy teaches us the faith, and in being taught by the liturgy, we enter more deeply into the great mystery that guides our lives as Christians. Do not let the feasts we celebrate and the prayers and readings we pray pass you by; draw truth and life from them. “It is this mystery of Christ [the Paschal Mystery and work of salvation] that the Church proclaims and celebrates in her liturgy so that the faithful may live from it and bear witness to it in the world” (CCC 1068).
“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.” The Holy Father gave us these words last year on the inaugural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, inviting us to care for and journey with the elderly people we know. As our grandparents, parents, and older relatives grow older and approach the end of their lives, we take on the responsibility of caring for those who cared for us and raised us.
While there is justice in this act of caring for our elderly, it is not something cold and calculated (like our understanding of legal justice). It is founded upon the unconditional love of God the Father. Our grandparents, parents, and older relatives raised us, provided for us, and loved us without counting the cost, without expecting anything in return. In their old age, we as their children and once dependents return love for love as they now depend on us. We are called to care and provide for them and to love them unconditionally.
My grandmother was pivotal in the upbringing of my sisters and I as she helped to care for us when we were young. She taught us to pray and to love others through both the example of her gentleness and sweetness and through her instructions and corrections. She would give us treats, money, and gifts all the time. She would take us out, both individually and as a group, on little dates to the movies and for lunch. I have very fond memories of volunteering at tennis tournaments with her, and an entire summer break we spent together housesitting for my great uncle in rural Northwest Virginia. When I was in seminary, she would send me gifts and notes, addressing me on the phone or in writing as “our favorite seminarian.”
Signs of my grandmother’s disease that accelerated her aging came in years prior to 2020. Things took a turn for the worse that year–both before and after she was diagnosed. My mother made the difficult but beautiful decision to keep her at our family home and provide for her, and we have continued to do so. As things progressively become more difficult and she seems to be near the end, she is entirely dependent on others for her basic human needs. I have watched my mom and older sister grow in love by providing for her daily. I have been given the same opportunity when I moved back home. Although my grandmother is sometimes still reluctant to receive help and cannot always be fully present or say thank you, we give her our love unconditionally, and we know in various ways that she is grateful for our time and attention.
If you have someone in your life who is elderly, especially a grandparent, parent, or relative that helped to raise you, I invite you to recognize the importance of remaining connected to them. Provide for them in the ways you are able to and give them the gift of your time and attention, regularly and intentionally. The care which our grandparents, parents, and relatives gave us in our upbringing warrants our care in return, especially when they are in need. They made a sacrifice and gift of themselves to us when we were dependent on them, and we are called to do the same. As Pope Francis reminds us, “May we never regret that we were insufficiently attentive to those who loved us and gave us life.”