My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
The Labor Day weekend has passed, and our children and young adults are now back in school. I pray that the lessons they learn in our Catholic schools and religious-education programs will be built upon the virtues and the faith taught to us by Jesus. And I pray that all institutions of learning will provide a solid foundation upon which our young people can build their lives.
However, not all life’s lessons are learned in the classroom. The first classroom is the home, where parents share our Catholic faith with their children through regular participation at Holy Mass each Sunday or at the vigil Mass and by the example of lives built upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Ritual for The Order of Confirmation describes these gifts as: “wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety; fill them with the spirit of the fear of the Lord (wonder and awe in the presence of God).” Together with the educators in our schools, parents are truly called upon to be the first and the best of teachers of their children in living lives in union with Jesus, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Grandparents are often powerful examples of living our Catholic faith and are themselves true teachers of what it means to live with Jesus all the days of our lives. On July 23, 2023, His Holiness, Pope Francis, celebrated the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly at Holy Mass offered at St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, Pope Francis referred to “our grandparents and the elderly, who have already travelled far along life’s journey. If they look back, they see so many beautiful things they have succeeded in doing. Yet they also see defeats, mistakes, things that – as they say – ‘if I went back I would not do again’ … Old age is a ‘blessed time,’ for it is the season to be reconciled, a time for looking tenderly at the light that has shone despite the shadows, confident in the hope that the good wheat sown by God will prevail over the weeds with which the devil has wanted to plague our hearts.”
Pope Francis went on to say: “Brothers and sisters, how much we need a new bond between young and old … Let us not forget our grandparents or the elderly, for so often we have been lifted up, gotten back on track, felt loved and been healed within, all by a caress of theirs. They have made sacrifices for us, and we cannot let them drop down the list of our priorities. Let us grow together, let us go forward together.”
Previously, on July 25, 2021, once again at Holy Mass offered on the occasion of World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, Pope Francis spoke beautifully about our senior members in the family of God: “Let us not lose the memory preserved by the elderly, for we are children of that history, and without roots, we will wither. They protected us as we grew, and now it is up to us to protect their lives, to alleviate their difficulties, to attend to their needs and to ensure that they are helped in daily life and not feel alone. Let us ask ourselves: ‘Have I visited my grandparents, my elderly relatives, the older people in my neighborhood? Have I listened to them? Have I spent time with them?’ Let us protect them, so that nothing of their lives and dreams may be lost. May we never regret that we were insufficiently attentive to those who loved us and gave us life.”
So, indeed, part of the education of our young people is that they enter into conversation with their grandparents and learn from them the values and the faith that have sustained them throughout their lives. In celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for our youth, I have noticed the number of candidates for the reception of Confirmation who ask their grandparents to be their sponsors. I would like to believe, and I do believe, that their choice is motivated by their affection and admiration for their grandparents. Many parents live in economically challenged times, and both parents must work in addition to their responsibilities at home. So many parents rely upon their parents to support them in meeting the many challenges of today’s society. Grandparents have come forward to assist their children, now parents themselves. With this help comes the wisdom and experience of grandparents, the witness of their lived faith, so often accompanied by unconditional love, care and concern. What a great loss it would be for our children not to experience this bond between grandparent and grandchild. And for those whose grandparents have returned to the Lord, other senior members of the community also offer the benefit of sharing their own lives’ journeys.
In that same July 25, 2021 homily, Pope Francis spoke of the need for “a new covenant between young and old. We need to share the treasure of life, to dream together, to overcome conflicts between generations and to prepare a future for everyone. Without such a covenantal sharing of life, dreams and future, we risk dying of hunger, as broken relationships, loneliness, selfishness and the forces of disintegration gradually increase. In our societies, we have frequently surrendered to the notion of ‘every man for himself’. But this is deadly! The Gospel bids us share what we are and what we possess, for only in this way will we find fulfillment. I have often mentioned the words of the prophet Joel about young and old coming together (cf. Joel 3:1). Young people, as prophets of the future, who treasure their own history. The elderly, who continue to dream and share their experience with the young, without standing in their way. Young and old, the treasure of tradition and the freshness of the Spirit. Young and old together. In society and in the Church, together.”
Yes, the classroom is so important to education. But a holistic education reaches beyond the walls of the classroom and includes the family, the Church, the elder members of the community and, first and above all, Jesus Christ in every place and at all times.
Entrusting our children and young people to Our Mother Mary, and her teachers, St. Joachim and St. Ann, I remain, with constant prayers for our youth,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester