I am writing this message to you on a very cold Sunday evening, having returned from the warmth of the Gold Coast where Allen and I took the time to be with our children and grandchildren. I write of this because on this Sunday, 25 July, the Catholic Church is marking the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly. Pope Francis writes in his Message, “the whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!”
Pope Francis then goes on to talk about receiving the visit from an angel. I must admit it is not something that I think about, however it comes from the promise the Lord made to his disciples before he ascended into heaven, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20). Francis writes of this with the pandemic as the backdrop, where there has been so much sickness, isolation, loss, and fear, particularly for the elderly. He goes on to invite us to read a page of the Gospel every day, to pray with the psalms or to read the prophets, in which we will be comforted by the Lord’s faithfulness, and to be aware of what we are being called to, even as age creeps up on us. This is named as the Vocation of the Third Age. Francis writes that we must not forget that “our vocation is to preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young, and to care for the little ones.” He then writes:
Given this, I want to tell you that you are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow: the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided. All of us must take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies. Among the pillars that support this new edifice, there are three that you, better than anyone else, can help to set up. Those three pillars are dreams, memory and prayer. The Lord’s closeness will grant to all, even the frailest among us, the strength needed to embark on a new journey along the path of dreams, memory and prayer.
I recall the time I served as the Pastoral Associate at St Joseph’s Parish, Tweed Heads. One of my ministries was to visit those in hospitals, aged care facilities and the housebound in their homes. Given the area, I was blest to have a team of parishioners who assisted with this ministry. I was never left with any doubt that all of these ‘frail’ people had a purpose and a mission, for some it was connecting with their families, for others it was offering a smile or words of gratitude to those who cared for them, for others it was time spent every day in prayer, while for others it was just enjoying the sunlight and nature. They all had one thing in common, and that was gratitude for hearing the Word of God, receiving Holy Communion and sharing their stories. As I write this message, I am very conscious of the number of people who, because of COVID, are being deprived of this pastoral and sacramental nourishment and of human contact and accompaniment.
It is my hope that throughout our diocese, we might be able to explore a ministry to reach out to those who are in care, either in their homes or in facilities, by inviting parents and carers from our schools to give a couple of hours each week to visit, spend time, or to share Eucharist with those in their neighbourhood. I began conversations with some of our aged-care providers before COVID and they are keen for us to invite those connected with our schools to provide this pastoral care.
Part of our role as older people is to share our dreams, memories and prayer, particularly with the young. Some of our recent time with our children and grandchildren was sharing with them memories of their growing up and what was important to us during those years. They know and accept that God is an essential part of our lives, and I believe our being present to them also keeps God real for them.
If you search for Prayer for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly you will find a beautiful video prayer: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-07/world-day-grandparents-elderly-pope-prayer-released-dicastery-la.html
I finish this week’s message with this weekend’s reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-6) in which we are reminded, there is one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, through all and within all.
I have no doubt that we are the miracle of God’s love in the world, like the miracle in the Gospel of the feeding of the five thousand. Our call is to respond to the call, no matter our situation or age.
Director Pastoral Ministries
27 July 2021