Pope Francis has designated the fourth Sunday of July, closest to the celebration of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus, as World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.
It will fall on Sunday, July 25, this year, the day immediately before the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne July 26. Pope Francis announced his decision to establish the day after his Angelus message Jan. 31, 2021, and published his first message for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly May 31, 2021. During his pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken frequently and supportively of the special role which the elderly and grandparents should hold in our society, especially when their unique gifts, virtues and human insights are often overlooked as we overemphasized the qualities of youth.
This June, a veteran bishop conferred Holy Orders upon eight young men. This was a very special and happy day for his diocese. As the bishop addressed the young men in his homily, he remarked that their youthfulness was clearly visible and observed that they rightly could be like Jeremiah the prophet who, when called by God exclaimed, “Ah Lord God, I surely do not know how to speak. I am too young” (Jer 1:6). The bishop went on to remind the young men that none of them had achieved the great long white beard of senior wisdom figures or were stooped with the burden of years and the endurance of many trails. He joked that they had not even achieved the beginning of an old man’s paunch.
However, years and experience would eventually bestow all their signs upon them. In the interim, like Jeremiah, God assures these young men that He has called them and that He would be with them, many times by relying upon the wisdom and advice of their senior brother priests who had gained wisdom through their years of experience.
One of the most insightful passages of Scripture regarding wisdom is when Solomon is to become king and God asks him what gift he would prefer. Solomon asks for the gift of wisdom. God replies, “Because this has been your wish – you do not ask for riches, treasures and glory, or the life of those who hate you, or even for a long life for yourself, but you asked for wisdom and knowledge in order to rule my people over whom I have made you king – wisdom and knowledge are given to you. I will also give you riches, treasures and glory, such as kings before you never had” (2 Chr 1:11–12). Indeed, wisdom possesses in itself true riches, treasures, and honor. These are possessed by our grandparents and the elderly who offer all of us, no matter what our age may be, the experience of life and an insight into eternal life, which only comes from living.
Dreaming and the gift of dreams is a reality to which Pope Francis often refers. He frequently speaks of the “dreams of God” and uses marriage as but one example of this. He also refers to the dreams of St. Joseph. He recently published a book of personal reflections, “Let Us Dream.” The pope does not refer to dreams as fictions of the imagination, but as fanciful inventions with a purpose and meaning. In this context he, in his recent message for World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, refers to the words of the prophet Joel, “Your old men shall dream dreams and your young men will have visions” (Jl 3:1). Pope Francis says that “dreams are intertwined with memory” and that young people and the elderly have a covenant between them because the young can take the dreams of the elderly and make them come true.
I sometimes refer to the words of the prophet Joel in my homily to young people at Confirmation. These words were quoted by Saint Peter to the crowd before him on Pentecost. I remind the young people that the Holy Spirit they are about to receive will give them a vision, not in some extraordinary manner, but in a vision of life which is perspective. As they look to the future, they must put the things they will face in life in a perspective of faith in God’s purpose for them if they want to experience true joy. While I do not refer to the dreams of the elderly, it makes perfect sense that they who have lived with that perspective, now in their experience and wisdom, can hand on to young people a foundation to build upon for the future. The dreams of the elderly make it possible for young people to have new visions.
As we celebrate this first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, we give thanks to God for our grandparents and the elderly, expressing our need to rely upon them in their unique role in our lives. We appreciate their signs of aging more as well earned badges of honor so often brought about by the experience of life. Pope Francis also makes reference to the words of Pope Benedict XVI, spoken before his resignation from the papacy, “The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others.” All of us, no matter what our age, with gifts from God, support each other. May we continue to revere and learn from our grandparents and the elderly.