“The parents of our 4 grandchildren have chosen not to educate their children in the faith. We respect their decisions, while we try to discover new ways to do this, with creativity, fun, and love.” This was said by Declan O’Brien, delegate of the Focolare Movement, who took the floor with his wife Sarah during the panel session on Handing on the Faith between the Generations: The Role of Grandparents at the World Meeting of Families held in Dublin, Ireland on August 22-26, 2018. The Irish spouses indicated three ways of doing this.

Sarah: We’re going to talk first about 2 grandparents. My grandfather Edward Farley came from a traditional Irish family from Kells, County Meath, that settled in Yorkshire in the late 1800s. Eventually he became, through his hard work and honesty, a respected and successful businessman in Bradford where I was born. I loved my grandfather and was proud of him. Essentially he was a man of God and loved the Church, and I knew this, not from him but from others, as he didn’t really speak to me about these things.

The role of Grandparents

The thing I noticed about him was his love for everyone and his gentle love for me, and I knew that I wanted to be like him… I realized that my grandfather was a very spiritual man and this had a big effect on me and greatly influenced the decisions I made in life later. It is so true what Pope Francis says, “Very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren…” (Amoris Laetitia [AL] 192)

The second grandparent that we wanted to mention is my mother, his daughter, who was a good and virtuous Catholic woman, although she wasn’t a particularly spiritual person. Yet there were moments when she surprised me with her deep wisdom, and especially later on in life as the grandmother to our children. In fact, her last words before she went into a coma and died were to her youngest grandchild, our daughter, when she told her: “Always remember to ‘Treat others as you would like them to treat you.’ ” This phrase from the Gospels is found in many religions and cultures. Here then was a grandmother’s final handing on of the faith, giving the “Golden Rule” to her grandchildren. Pope Francis writes, and for me this sums up this grandmother: “An authentic faith (…) always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” (Evangelii Gaudium 183)

Declan: And now, we ourselves are the grandparents! And we hear the Pope speaking to us when he writes: “Education in the faith has to adapt to each child, since older resources and recipes do not always work.” (AL 288)

In our case, this is certainly true. The parents of our 4 grandchildren have chosen not to educate their children in the faith. We respect their decision.

The role of Grandparents

Let’s look at 3 ways we can pass on the faith. One is to spend time with our grandchildren. Pope Francis tells us: “Time is greater than space.” And for us, there is geographical space between us as our 4 grandchildren live abroad and the time we spend with them is even more important. In this time spent together, we let them know that they are loved, and we also feel loved by them. Jesus’ last commandment was “Love one another as I have loved you,” and so we try to love our grandchildren with patience, tenderness, kindness, mercy and forgiveness. We try to love with “a love that never gives up.” (AL 118)

Thus we too experience their love, kindness, mercy… So there is this mutual love, as most grandparents have with their grandchildren. Our time together, our gestures, our acts of kindness and forgiveness are inspired by love. Of course, we are far from perfect and make lots of errors along the way, for in family life we cannot hide behind a mask. Our grandchildren can see our authenticity or the lack of it. It is lovely for us when we visit our grandchildren in Paris, when for evening meals we all sit together around the table for dinner.

The role of Grandparents

But sometimes our son can get into argumentative discussions with us. Our grandchildren can see how we respond to these situations, whether we just try to score points off each other, or whether we try to have true dialogue. We often fail, but when we try to put ourselves in the shoes of our son, by listening well, forgiving him for some outrageous remarks, pouring him another glass of water, bringing a positive light to the discussion… when we succeed in these things, and our actions are inspired by love, we hope all this is noticed by our grandchildren.

As Pope Francis says, “If that authenticity is inspired by love, then the Lord reigns there, with his joy and his peace.” (AL 315)

Sarah: This is a phrase that Pope Francis mentions in many different ways throughout Amoris Laetitia and it has given us a lot of peace as we worry at times about our grandchildren not being brought up in the faith. Here Pope Francis gives us hope and reminds us that where love is, God is there. Our love may not always be perfect, but “the fact that love is not perfect does not make it untrue or unreal.” (AL 113)

A second way we can pass on our faith is by sharing important things with our grandchildren. Spending time with our grandchildren allows us to speak, when the moment is right, “of important things with simplicity and concern.” (AL 260). We must try to have the courage to state what is truly of value to our grandchildren. And they can speak with us, if we are there to listen to them, of things important to them. And so we have short dialogues with our grandchildren, a dialogue between friends. “No long sermons, just a few words are enough,” advised Chiara Lubich, foundress of the Focolare.

Our granddaughter once asked me, “Nana, why do you always wear your cross?” I initially thought “Aha, here’s my chance!” but it wasn’t the right moment and I explained in just a few short words how much I loved my cross. And hopefully in the future we can continue this conversation.

Declan: Lately, I asked one of our grandchildren if she wished to play a game with me on my iPad. She replied, “Mom doesn’t want me to spend time on smartphones, etc. She says I might get addicted.” Here she was teaching me, and in that short dialogue I praised her and her mom, telling her I too must spend less time on these things.

A third way, is through prayer. We are not in a position to pray with our grandchildren. But of course, we can pray for them. And when we go out for a walk with them, we might sometimes visit a church. Once we happened to drop in during the Eucharistic adoration where they received blessings as the priest blessed us with the Blessed Sacrament. We have enjoyed with them the silence of spending some time in church. They notice that we go to Mass. And occasionally, they have asked to come to Mass with us too.
Sarah: Our grandchildren don’t read Bible stories. But over Christmas, we got a lovely pop-up children’s book in Veritas Publications and I read our two grandsons the story
of Christmas, which they had never heard of. In a way, the only Bible they can read is us. Our hope, our joy, our love can be their Good News, “a source of light along the way.” (AL 290)

Declan: All of us should be able to say, thanks to the experience of our life in the family: “We have come to believe in the love that God has for us.” (1 Jn 4:16)” (AL 290). We pray that our living the words of the Gospel with love, will help lead our grandchildren to one day believing in God and in his immense love for each of them.

Source: Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life

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