Sunday, April 6, 2008


Some words from Benedict's reflection on grandparents
The church has always kept a particular attention to grandparents, recognizing their great richness in the human and social spheres, just as in the religious and spiritual ones....

Looking back grandparents had an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even in old age, this continues in their presence with their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, giving living testimony of concern, of sacrifice and of a daily giving of oneself without reserve. They are witnesses of a personal story and community that continues to live in their memories and their wisdom....

As regards the family, grandparents continue to be witnesses of unity, of solid values of faithfulness and that singular love from which faith and the joy of living flow.... In the face of the crisis of the family could it not be time to draw even more upon the presence and testimony of those -- grandparents -- who have a greater richness of values and experience? We couldn't, in fact, plan the future without recalling a past characterized by significant experiences and spiritual and moral points of reference. Thinking of grandparents, of their witness of love and faith to live, there come to mind the biblical figures of Abraham and Sara, Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, just like the elderly Simeon and Anna, or even Nicodemus: in every age, all of these recall for us how the Lord asks each to bring their own talents.
These beautiful reflections remind me of a great lacunae I see in present day American culture, namely, wise elders. Every great civilization turned to its elders for wisdom, for an expression of the meaning of the end, for a summary of the meaning of the journey that it was on the point of completing. Most great elders I have known had synthesized all of the complexities of life into a few simple lines. This was not because they no longer wanted to deal with life's challenges, but because they were able to see beyond these challenges to the underlying mystery that is life. I can think of my grandfather who summarized everything he had ever experienced with a simple reflection on "Divine Providence." Or a great spiritual director of mine in his nineties who's knowledge of life could be summarized in God's self-communication and generosity through each aspect of being. This is not to say that we who are young have the luxury of coming to the same short descriptions. Rather, we must also do the work of living life, of facing its challenges, in order to arrive at the same point as our elders. But what they do is offer at the end of life the knowledge that this all makes sense, and that there is a holistic vision beyond the apparent dualities and dichotomies of youth.

Yet in America we lack these days many great elders. Few things are more depressing to me than visiting elderly homes. One reason I realized for this was that they were hopeless. Most of the elders in these places had never synthesized life. They had never found meaning. They were simply living out the rest of their span of time playing bingo and Scrabble. This kind of hopelessness has a disastrous effect on the young, who see in old age not the pinnacle of wisdom, but all that they never want to arrive at. This has also contributed to a euthanasia society. Who wants cranky, depressed people around? Yet the Bible is rich with stories of deathbed advice. In their wisdom was discovered the vocation of the child. That was definitely true of me. I pray it become more and more true of the American journey.

Markel, SJ

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