Have you called or prayed for your grandparents lately? How about visited your elderly neighbor? As the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, July 25, marks the perfect opportunity to reach out to the aging individuals in your life in a special way that reassures them of your love and care.
An annual event, the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated on the fourth Sunday of each July from now on, and it joins the World Day of the Poor (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time) and the Sunday of the Word of God (Third Sunday in Ordinary Time) as prominent days established by Pope Francis that reflect his priorities.
The feast is timed to fall close to the July 26 liturgical memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary.
In some ways, the establishment of a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is simply a formalization of Pope Francis’ well-established teaching on respect and care for the aging, whom he in 2013 called “the ones who give life’s wisdom.”
And it is a teaching that has great value, for, as Pope Francis said in 2015, “the elderly person is us. Soon, or many years from now — inevitably anyway — we will be old, even if we don’t think about it.”
For those of us who may fall into the demographic honored, this moment is an opportunity to reflect upon how we may continue to answer the Lord’s call in our lives. In his message commemorating the day — a very personal letter addressed to “elderly friends” — Pope Francis, being 84 years old himself, seemed to write less as the Holy Father and more as a peer, describing how, no matter the season of life, the Lord remains close to his people with “new possibilities, new ideas, new consolations.
“I was called to become the bishop of Rome when I had reached, so to speak, retirement age and thought I would not be doing anything new,” he said. Vocation, he added, never ends — and for the elderly that vocation is “to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones.
“It makes no difference how old you are, whether you still work or not, whether you are alone or have a family, whether you became a grandmother or grandfather at a young age or later, whether you are still independent or need assistance,” he continued. “Because there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. You just need to set out and undertake something new.”
These words are a gift and an inspiration, underscoring the dignity of each person, no matter his or her age, and helping those who are growing older remember that they continue to play an important role in society, especially where the faith is concerned. May the Holy Father’s words take root and flourish.
For those of us who have yet to enter into our golden years, the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is an opportunity to be mindful of those growing older around us who deserve our attention and devotion.
During the pandemic, this editorial board asked whether the pandemic should change our societal approach to the elderly, arguing that we have a special obligation to care for the vulnerable among us, even when it might be inconvenient. We called on readers of Our Sunday Visitor not to forget those who are growing older, especially those who may be in nursing homes or otherwise separated from family.
The same is true when we are not in the midst of a deadly pandemic. As vaccine development and deployment has enabled us to return to somewhat normal lives, and we are able to see our loved ones again without fear of harming them, we find ourselves newly presented with an opportunity to be intentional about loving them well.
We can assist them, providing physical, emotional and spiritual care in their final years. We can learn from them, sitting by their sides to soak in their stories and ask questions. We can pray for them, helping to prepare them for the inevitable day they will meet the Lord. And in doing so, we can help prepare for our own.
This commentary was first published online July 13 by Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the editorial board.
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