HOMILY FOR 26th JULY, 2019
Feast of St. Anne and Joachim.
I welcome you all on this special Feast day which has come to be identified with Grandparents Day – the Feast of the parents of Our Lady and the grandparents of Jesus himself. A very special welcome to all grandparents in our congregation and also to members of the Grandparents Association and members of the steering committee. Today there are enormous pressures on parents and families. Some of these pressures come from outside the home, while others come from within the home itself in terms of access to the internet and social media. In situations where parents are stretched in terms of holding down a job, to pay a mortgage and make ends meet, the time which they have with their children is very reduced compared to society in the past. In these situations the grandparents provide an indispensable role. They have time to spend with their grandchildren. Of course you love to see them coming but they have such energy, there are times when you like to see them going. However, you have quality time with them to encourage, support and journey with them in their discoveries of the world.
It is very interesting that when Moses addressed the people of Israel on the brink of the exodus over 3,000 years ago he didn’t speak about liberation, or about the golden future in the promised land. He doesn’t speak about the difficulties that lie ahead, what Nelson Mandela called the “long walk to freedom”. Instead, three times, he talks about parents and children and the duty to hand the story on to future generations. Grandparents provide an enormously rich source in this respect. They have the experience of life that has been lived with its ups and downs, its triumphs and disappointments. In a few short years our children will be reared on a very secular diet where there probably will be very little mention of God, where drug and alcohol abuse will be very much in evidence and material success and personal fulfilment will become the goal and purpose of human life for many. Grandparents have an opportunity in advance of all of this to provide grandchildren with values which will become coping mechanisms in the future.
Of course, as grandparents you quite frequently walk a tight rope between your involvement and warm relationship with your grandchildren on the one hand and on the other, the risk of interfering and usurping the role of the parents. You recall the gospel story in St. Luke of the finding of Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old on the occasion of the visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. One of the developmental tasks of childhood, teenager and young adulthood is discovering and affirming one’s identity. What defines one’s identity – family ties, religious experience, a sense of vocation, a personal creed, or one’s dreams and ideals? Jesus found his identity by affirming his relationship with God. You know the story of the dialogue which took place between Jesus and his mother when he was found in the Temple speaking with the doctors of the law. You can well imagine that the concern which was experienced by Mary and Joseph would also have been shared by St. Anne and St. Joachim. Yet, the Gospel has no record of their reaction.
The formative years in a child’s life are illustrated by a story that comes from about 400 years before the time of Christ. A Greek Philosopher was approached by a mother who was anxious about the training of her son. She asked when do I need to start training and educating him? The Philosopher asked what age is your son? Five years she replied. Go home quickly said the Philosopher, you are already five years too late. Ideas of God, of Jesus, of love, respect, fair-play and truth are among the values which grandparents in their own time can gently share with their grandchildren. As the years go on grandparents will be able to illustrate their interest in the things that concern their grandchildren, supporting them in their projects, cheering them on in their games, being there to provide a supportive shoulder when they loose. All of this involves building up a relationship of love and trust.
Pope Francis has quite frequently indicated the important role which his grandparents and particularly his grandmother had in helping to form his life. He acknowledges that he learned his first prayers from her. You can well imagine that Jesus would have learned of the Psalms from both Our Lady and St. Joseph but also from St. Anne and St. Joachim. Today, thanks to the wonderful work being done by Catherine Wiley the role of grandparents is being highlighted and appreciated.
On this special Feast day I congratulate all the grandparents here in our congregation this morning and acknowledge the wonderful work you are doing in terms of the human formation of our grandchildren and the way in which you are ambassadors for Jesus Christ in this most urgent form of evangelisation as the young are introduced to God as a loving Father and to Mary as a caring mother. When these essentials of our Christian faith are put in context then the young are provided with a solid foundation on which the building of character and responsibility will follow in the future. On this Feast of St. Joachim and St. Anne we entrust all grandparents and grandchildren to their care and protection.