Watching my parents and in-laws become grandparents has been one of the greatest joys that has accompanied my having nieces and nephews and becoming a parent. I appreciate the relationship I have with my parents and in-laws in many ways, but I truly delight in seeing the relationship they have with my 3- and 4-year-old. The love and affection they demonstrate to my kids is tender, unique, and boundless. I am constantly amazed by their generosity and patience as they kindly agree to read book after book after book, go to the park, build an elaborate block structure, or watch my kids’ favorite show. Their hospitality and thoughtfulness shines through when they bring out the stash of toys they keep on hand just for them or plan special meals, always taking care to include all my kids’ favorite menu items.
Not only do my parents and in-laws make my kids feel deeply loved in these day-to-day activities, but I can also tell how they are helping form them into the people I hope my kids will be. On occasions where I feel the need to discipline or scold my children, their grandparents are able to offer gentle correction and kind guidance. They don’t resort to force or bribery; they simply offer heartfelt advice and wisdom from their own experience. By praying with and for them, they serve as witnesses of deep faith. By sharing family stories, they preserve our shared memories, history, and roots. By offering to watch the kids so that my husband and I can get away for a bit, they provide much-appreciated support.
As I muse over the time my kids spend with their grandparents, it makes me wonder what Jesus’ relationship with his grandparents was like. That is one of the many reasons I enjoy celebrating today’s feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandparents of Jesus. (Another reason is that my daughter, Ana, was named both for St. Anne and for my husband’s grandmother, who was born on this day). My imagination sets a scene of Jesus enjoying some of his grandmother’s home baked goods in the kitchen or out for a walk on the hilly countryside with his grandfather. Surely, they enjoyed quality time with their beloved grandson, caring for him with watchful eyes, holding him as he sat on their knees, and soothing his hurts or anxieties as only a grandparent’s unique perspective and calm can.
In a World Youth Day message, Pope Francis describes how, “Saints Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their faith and love for God, expressed in the warmth and love of family life, down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world, to us. How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith! ... How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family…This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!” (Angelus, XXVIII World Youth Day, July 26, 2013).
I have come to appreciate this treasure more and more as I try to respond to the Holy Father’s invitation to prioritize time with grandparents and the elderly. Besides speaking on several occasions of his own close relationship with his own grandmother, Pope Francis just last year established the celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and Elderly on the fourth Sunday of July, near today’s feast. In his message for this second occasion of its celebration, Pope Francis extols the virtues of grandparents and the elderly as “teachers of a way of life that is peaceful and attentive to those in greatest need”, “artisans of the revolution of tenderness in our world”, and “poets of prayer”.
I recognize and admire these and many other qualities in my parents and in-laws. On this feast, my prayer is filled with joy and gratitude for the great gift my children have in their grandparents. I hope that they cherish the time they spend with their grandparents and value their example of love and witness of faith as I do. And I pray for the intercession of Saints Anne and Joachim, that my family will continue to be filled with this great love that spans generations.