From the Pen of Brother Bob Chiulli

Brother Bob Chiulli, O.Carm.

In May of 2021, Pope Francis gave an address in Rome announcing the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. He began by recognizing how difficult the pandemic has been for the elderly as they have been impacted particularly hard by the virus, and often had to endure many months of isolation from family and friends. He then goes on to say that they must however remain hopeful as they have an important vocation in the life of the Church. And what is this vocation? It is, “to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones.” Age and infirmity are not barriers to the proclamation of the Gospel, but rather enflesh the Gospel message with depth, experience and wisdom.

It is fairly well known that grandparents play a crucial role in the faith development of their grandchildren. It may be because that while parents are occupied with the more immediate needs of child rearing: feeding, clothing, educating, etc., grandparents can be the ones who express unconditional love and acceptance, and provide a human face of God’s love for them. At its best, the affection between a grandparent and a grandchild is free from judgment and conditions, and exists between two people who simply take the other for who he or she is. And when parents are consumed with anxiety about whether they are raising their children correctly according to contemporary standards, grandparents can be that voice that says it is always better to err on the side of love.

The witness of Christian living that grandparents provide for their grandchildren is profound. I recall one time as a young child walking down the long hallway of my grandparents’ apartment with my grandfather. As we arrived to the doorway into the kitchen, we stopped, and my grandfather bent down to me and pointed out my grandmother working at the kitchen table, unaware of our presence. He quietly said, “Every week your grandmother fills a bag with groceries and brings it to the food pantry at the church.”  In that simple moment I learned the essence of charity: that it is done without fanfare, it is done regularly, and it is done as a fulfillment of one’s Christian duty. Many years later I remember this event more than any treatise on moral theology I have read or any homily I have heard.

It was Mother Angeline’s relationship with her own grandfather that provided the initial inspiration for her own vocation: “I guess first of all it was my close association and deep affection for my 82-year-old grandfather in County Tyrone on Lough Neagh’s banks in Northern Ireland where I was born.” Because she was so close to her grandfather, she could not bear the thought of other elderly men and women existing in situations where they were lonely, neglected, cold or hungry. Again, she states, “And although I admired work for children, hospital work and other types of charity, it was my strong love for old age and its infirmities that influenced me.”        

Pope Francis ended his address to grandparents by reminding them that they have a great gift to share with the world, and this is the gift of prayer: “Your prayer 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, as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic, your intercession for the world and for the Church has great value: it inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore.” Mother Angeline, a true Carmelite, also believed in the power and necessity of prayer, and in these trying days, we should follow her example and continually offer our hearts and minds up to God. And we should also give thanks for the grandparents, both living and deceased, who pointed out to us the way of holiness.

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