17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 25, 2021
World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly
My grandmother on my mom’s side of the family died in 1972 when I was 16 years old. While she passed away almost 50 years ago, I remember an event during her last days of life like it was yesterday.
As time passed in her final illness, my grandmother became increasingly weak as a result of heart disease. Two days before she died, with eight of her ten children present, along with many of her grandchildren, she was brought from her bedroom into the kitchen in order to look out on her very large backyard and her beloved garden. With her large family hovering around her, she shared these simple words that I have never forgotten, “I’m so happy. … I’m so happy.”
My grandmother was too weak to go into great detail about why she was happy, but to those of us who gathered around her, the reasons for her happiness were obvious. My grandmother lived a simple life as an immigrant from Poland but she taught her family something very profound – especially in her final days. For her, faith and family meant everything. With her large family was present, having just finished praying the rosary, she was “happy” and at peace as she prepared for her journey into God’s eternity.
On May 31st of this year, Pope Francis established the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. In so doing, the Holy Father called all of us – and especially grandparents and the elderly – to recognize the cherished role that we all play in the human family and in the Church. In a message to the Church in these days that continue to challenge our well-being as a result of the current health crisis, Pope Francis assured our elder brothers and sisters that “the Lord is aware of all that we have been through in this time. He is close to those who felt isolated and alone, feelings that became more acute during the pandemic. … Even at the darkest moments, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us: ‘I am with you always.’” … The Holy Father went on, “At times those angels will have the face of our grandchildren, at others, the face of family members, lifelong friends or those we have come to know during these trying times, when we have learned how important hugs and visits are for each of us.”
Writing at various points in his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis acknowledges what has happened to the elderly in certain places in our world when older people have found themselves abandoned. “We fail to realize,” the Holy Father warns, “that, by isolating the elderly and leaving them in the care of others without the closeness and concern of family members, we disfigure and impoverish the family itself. We also end up depriving young people of a necessary connection to their roots and of wisdom that the young cannot achieve on their own.”
Today’s gospel passage, however, is a powerful reminder to us not only of how God works in our world but how each of us has a vital role to share in the building up of the Church and in the proclamation of the good news of salvation. The scene presented in Saint John’s version of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish and the feeding of the multitudes helps us to understand how whatever each of us possesses can be a great resource for all. … A young boy brings to Jesus five barley loaves and two fish. What mattered what not what or how much the boy brought but the fact that he presented his gift to Jesus, who, in turn, was able to use the boy’s gift and satisfy the hungers of those present.
The Church needs every one of us to feed those souls who are not able to feed themselves. Just as Jesus allowed a young boy to assist him in the unfolding of a miracle, today it seems more crucial than ever that we allow the faith and wisdom of our elderly brothers and sisters to be used by the Lord to enable miracles to occur in our broken world and wayward lives.
While some in our materialistic and self-consumed world tragically maintain that the lives of the elderly are more burdens to be born than gifts to be celebrated, the teachings of the gospel continually remind us that all of life, from the moment of conception to natural death has value, purpose and dignity, having been created in the image and likeness of God. As such, our grandparents and the elderly are vitally important in God’s plan. Without them, the body of Christ is incomplete.
Brothers and sisters, we are all called to cherish and share in the lives of our elderly parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends in the same way that the Lord Jesus, in giving us the Eucharist, has made us sharers in his own life. As Pope Francis has reminded us, “no one is saved alone.” At every stage and circumstance of life, “we are all indebted to one another. We are all brothers and sisters.”
Finally, to those of you whom we honor this day, continue to serve and to generously share your lives, your love and especially your prayers. “Your prayer,” Pope Francis notes, “is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the Church and the world urgently need. Especially in these difficult times for our human family, your intercession for the world and for the Church has great value.”
So be at peace, dear friends. Trust that the Lord is with you always. Keep moving forward. Know of our love and of God’s abundant blessings.