Marilyn Rodrigues: Don’t underestimate your impact, grandparents

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The special love between grandparents and grandkids opens a way for God to enter both their lives in a powerful way.

My husband and I are grateful that in our family all of our children’s grandparents continue to support them in different ways to know and grow in their faith. Some are more overt in their expressions of faith than others, but all support us in raising our children in the Catholic faith.

A while back The Catholic Weekly ran a story about Chinese Catholic grandparents very actively passing on the faith to their grandchildren, bringing them to Mass and even for baptism.

Sister Chen of the Handmaid of the Holy Spirit congregation in China’s Changzhi Diocese, said that, “Although the elderly may not be able to teach the grandchildren much doctrine and Church teachings, they instil faith in a subtle way that helps consolidate the minds of the younger generation”.

In the same issue, a Year 7 Oak Flats student had a letter published explaining in part how he always reads The Catholic Weekly at his grandmother’s house. Luc-Pierre Tannous wrote that this was his favourite help in meditation, and wondered how many other children read The Catholic Weekly in secret, learning about God. How beautiful a thought is that?

In our own homes, if not for our faith-filled publications and online media, there is scant else in our popular culture that can assuage a child’s hunger for something to help them understand or express their spiritual life.

Some children and teenagers are more sensitive to the spiritual life than others, while all younger children are easily connected with the spiritual. Somehow it seems a particularly terrible thing for them to go hungry if we parents or grandparents can do anything about it.

And there is much that we can do even if we live away from, or are in some other way distant from our child or grandchild.

When Jesus said if anyone gives but a cup of water in my name, they will enter heaven. I am sure that he meant not only a literal cup of water, but a metaphorical one; a small portion of the living water Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman at the well.

The cup of ‘living’ water you offer a child in your family may be as simple as a ‘God bless’ sign-off on birthday cards and emails, the crucifix kept in a prominent place in your home, looking for creative or special quality gifts of sacramentals for special occasions, or leaving interesting Catholic literature out on the coffee table or kitchen bench.

Pope Francis has spoken of the importance of the elderly in passing on the faith to new generations, calling it their particular vocation. And while not all grandparents are elderly, the Pope’s words still apply.

Catherine Wiley, founder of the Catholic Grandparents Association, has spoken of the difference between a parent’s love and a grandparent’s love. Parents are necessarily focussed on their child’s material well-being, education, and relationships as he or she grows older. But grandparents have no agenda apart from being a loving presence to their grandchild. They are able to manifest God’s absolutely no-strings-attached love in a special way.

This year I helped to produce a new booklet for parishes and schools, Generation: Grand, published by LivingWell Media in Sydney, which celebrates the role of grandparents, particularly in passing on the faith.

It was sweet to notice that everyone who worked on that booklet felt that they wanted to call or visit their grandparent or their children’s grandparents a little more often.

I know that the memories that my kids will carry of their grandparents’ love, funny quirks, lessons about faith, and examples of Christian living will stay with them and help them to appreciate and to know the love of God as they grow in to adulthood and late adulthood.

And for our parents, I’m sure that their own faith has deepened through the awesome gifts of their grandchildren.