The first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, called for by Pope Francis on 25th July 2021 is approaching. Grandparents Sarah and Declan O’Brien tell us how they live their dialogue with grandchildren who don’t know anything about God.
I was deeply influenced in my faith journey by my grandfather. He came from a traditional Irish family who settled in Yorkshire in the late 1800s. Eventually, thanks to his hard work and his honest nature, he became a respected and successful businessman in Bradford.
Essentially, he was a man of God and he loved the Church, but he didn’t talk much about these things. The thing I noticed about him was his love for everyone and his kind love for me, his granddaughter. His way of life had a great effect on me and greatly influenced the decisions I made later on.
Now my husband Declan and I are grandparents! The parents of our four grandchildren have chosen not to educate their children to faith in God. We respect their decisions as we seek to discover new ways to convey the values of faith, offered with creativity, fun and love.
One way is to spend time with our grandchildren where they live in Paris. Pope Francis tells us: “Time is greater than space”. Since our four grandchildren live abroad, the time we spend with them is even more important. In this time together, we try to love our grandchildren with patience, tenderness, kindness, mercy and forgiveness.
We too experience their love and mercy. Of course, we are far from perfect and make a lot of mistakes along the way, and in family life we can’t hide behind a mask. Our grandchildren can see our authenticity or lack of it.
When we visit them we all sit together around the dinner table. But sometimes our son, a person who impresses us with his love for everyone, engages in controversial discussions with us. Our grandchildren can see how we respond to these situations, if we are just trying to score points over each other or if we try to have a real dialogue. Often we fail, but when we try to put ourselves in our son’s shoes, listening well, forgiving him for some outrageous remarks, pouring him another glass of water, bringing a positive light to the discussion, when we succeed in these things, and our actions are inspired by love, we hope this will be noticed by our grandchildren.
A second way to convey our faith is to share important things with our grandchildren. Spending time with them allows us to talk, when the time is right, “about important things with simplicity and concern” (Amoris Laetitia 260).
We try to have the courage to say what is truly important to them. And they too can talk to us, if we are there to listen to them, about important things. And so we are able to live short moments of dialogue with them, as between friends. Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare said, “No long sermons, just a few words are enough”.
A third way is prayer. We are unable to pray with our grandchildren, but of course we can pray for them. When we go out for a walk together, we can sometimes visit a church. Once we happened upon a Eucharistic adoration where they received a blessing. We enjoyed the silence of being in church with them. They realize that we go to Mass and sometimes they have asked to come with us.
Our grandchildren don’t read the Bible stories, but at Christmas we received a nice pop-up children’s book and I read the story of Christmas, which they had never heard, to two of our grandchildren. Perhaps the only Bible they can read is through us. Our hope, our joy, our love can be their good news, “a source of light along the way”, as Pope Francis wrote in Amoris Laetitia (290).
Sarah and Declan O’Brien
First published in Living City and shared at the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin