(Wis.12:13, 16-19; Rom.8:26-27; Mt.12:24-43)
Today, as we celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, we remember Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus.
Anne and Joachim aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but we know of them from other writings.[i] Joachim was a wealthy and generous man, and Anne was the daughter of a Levite priest. For years they prayed for a child of their own, then one day an angel told them that God had heard their prayers. To their great delight, Mary was born in their home. They adored her.
Anne and Joachim were very good parents. When Mary was little, they offered her to God, and they let her spend time in the Temple, learning about God and serving him with the other girls. They loved Mary and gave her a strong faith, teaching her to pray and to listen carefully for God’s quiet voice.
Anne and Joachim helped prepare Mary’s heart, so that when the Archangel Gabriel asked if she would be the mother of God, she was ready to say yes.
When we think about Jesus being raised as a boy, we usually think of his parents, Mary and Joseph. But we should remember his grandparents as well. They were a big influence in Jesus’ life, because it was Anne and Joachim who chose Joseph to be Mary’s husband. And it was their good parenting (and God’s merciful grace) that taught Mary to be a wonderful mother.
There’s an old Latin saying, Verbum sonat; exemplum tonat (‘words make a noise, but example thunders’). Through the ages, many grandparents have done wonderful things caring for children.
St Macrina the Elder (270-340AD) was a Christian woman who lived in Pontus, Turkey. This was in the days when violent persecution by the Romans was common, and for years Macrina was forced to hide in a forest with her family. After her husband died, she raised their son as a single parent, and when he got married she helped raise his children.
St Macrina did a great job because many of her family became saints. Her son was St Basil, his wife was St Emmelia, and four of her grandchildren also became saints: St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Peter of Sebaste and St Macrina the Younger. [ii]
Because Macrina was holy, her family became holy, too.
More recently, other grandparents have also done wonderful things.
U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both raised by their grandparents. Obama said his debt to his grandparents was beyond measure, and Clinton said his grandparents gave him his love of learning.
Oprah Winfrey was raised by her grandma on a farm. She taught her to read, and Oprah says her grandma gave her the foundations for her success in life.
Other famous people raised by grandparents include Louis Armstrong, Eric Clapton and Pierce Brosnan. Here in Australia, the singer David Campbell was also raised by his grandmother.
Today in Australia, it’s estimated that over 30,000 children live with their grandparents, and another 850,000 children are minded by their grandparents each week.[iii] In Spain, half of all grandparents look after children every day, and in cities like Shanghai, 90% of youngsters are looked after by at least one grandparent.
In 2013, Pope Francis called grandparents a ‘treasure’. He said that they ‘transmit history, doctrine and the faith, and they give them to us as an inheritance.’ [iv]
Pope Francis also told the story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather who got food all over his face when he ate. The father bought a small table and set it off to the side so the grandfather could eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family.
One day, the Pope said, the father came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. ‘What are you making?’ asked the father. ‘A table,’ the son replied. ‘Why?’ the father asked.
‘It’s for you, Dad, for when you’re old like grandpa.’
We don’t always appreciate our grandparents, but in so many ways they help make our world a better place. Through their love and kindness, they share wisdom and pass on the faith and values that are so important to our society. They help set young people on the right path through life.
The American writer Louisa May Alcott once wrote, ‘A house needs a grandma in it’. Someone else said, ‘A grandpa has silver in his hair and gold in his heart.’
Today, let’s show our love and gratitude for our grandparents.