Homily of Archbishop Michael for Grandparents Pilgrimage, Knock

11th September, 2016.

Many of us have enjoyed the recent Olympics. Did you notice the way in which the relays demanded so much from each runner – that they run to their potential, be careful to hand on the baton at the right moment, with precision in timing. Likewise, the faith depends on each generation if it is to be handed on to the next generation. In many way I feel that this is what grandparents have been doing all their lives. They have received the faith from their parents, have passed it on to their children who in turn have now passed it to their own children.

We acknowledge that faith, family and community are important for society. The neglect of one has its influence on the other. Today, children are born into a world of rapid change, in economics, politics and technology. More than previous generations, children today need stability zones.

Living in an age of hectic activity we try to meet deadlines, cope with various pressures from different sources. Success is frequently the criterion used to establish the identity of people – moving up the ladder, acquiring property, having power and prestige. The temptation is to take our sense of worth from our achievements rather than from who we are. Society demands that we achieve, produce and contribute in an identifiable way.

In this context we need courage to make judgements, to commend some ways of life and point to the deficiencies of others. Do we ever ask ourselves the question “what sort of world do we wish to give our children and our grandchildren”? When Moses addressed the people of God on the borders of the promised land, he didn’t speak about liberation or about a golden future, a land flowing with milk and honey. He didn’t speak of the difficulties and challenges that lay in the future. But rather he spoke about parents and children and the duty to hand the story on to future generations. By implication, he was also including grandparents. As Christians, we do this in a particular way as we tell the story of God’s relationship with us and listen to it when we celebrate the Eucharist.

The ever increasing demands of work means that people have less time to spend on relationships – children, parents, grandparents and friends. When the wider society is no longer conversive with or supportive of our values, we recognise the importance of education which values our ethos. We do not want our children to be taught that every difference of behaviour reflects an equally valid lifestyle. Many parents do not want a massive divergence between their children’s values and their own. They do not want moral values undermined by a secular, sceptical and cynical culture.

We assume that cultural and historical changes are primarily responsible for the decline in the numbers of young people participating in organised religion today. However, this is not the full story. Recent studies have shown that religious continuity is very strong where you have an emphasis on the family and particularly on the importance of strong emotional bonds within families. Parents with more warmth and close ties to their children have been found to be more successful in passing on religious faith. Significantly, it has been discovered that a father’s emotional accessibility and religious participation are hugely crucial in this respect. This underlines for us the importance of grandparents to faith transmission and particularly the role played by the grandfather in this respect.

Today, there is an urgency about lighting a candle of hope in what many consider to be a dark world. In the Book of Genesis the first question that God asks of humankind was “where are you”? This very question is addressed to us. Grandparents are essential in helping us to answer that question and provide us with a roadmap of where we have come from, where we are now and where we are heading. Grandparents have that overview of life. They have come through the time when life was dominated by the headaches, pressures and concerns of making a living, running a household, meeting schedules and measuring up to the demands of an achievement culture. They have acquired that ability to stand back and see things in perspective. The God in whom they believe is a God of surprises but someone who is there, who has a sense of humour and who believes and puts his trust in everyone he has created – grandparents, parents and children. On the other hand, grandparents learn so much from their grandchildren – perhaps it is a case of re-learning something of the innocence which they had once known but have tended to forget in the maze of life and are now in the position to admire and applaud it. At times we, as adults, are challenged by the simplicity, innocence and trust which are manifest in children but also the profundity which expresses itself in comments like “who does God play with”, “does God have many friends”

Grandparents have both the opportunity and responsibility to establish a tone for generations to come. They have a greater perspective, more experience and appreciation of life’s profound rhythms which are all part of a wisdom that needs to be shared.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the family is the foundation of society. When we reflect on how faith is passed on from one generation to the next, surely parents, grandparents, educators and religious leaders bear a heavy responsibility. They must communicate and share with their grandchildren a sense of joy, excitement and gratitude.

I will finish with a prayer from Liam Lawton’s book:

We are privileged to know
The blessing of grandparents.

To know
The knowledge of years
The wisdom of fears,
The Gift of tears.

To know the warm embrace
The kindly face
The unjudging space

May we follow
In footsteps
That honour the mystery of their giving
The sacrifices of their living
Their gracious forgiving


May Your touch upon my life
Draw other to be inspired
By my own self giving
However small

For when I look to You I
Am inspired
What need I more but
This desire
Your touch upon my life.


Encircle all of us
With Your light
Your love
Your presence
With Your eternal hope an promise
In us

May the world be a better place
Because we are born.

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