How to hand on faith to grandchildren when they are not connected to the church
By Sarah and Declan O’Brien
I was deeply influenced in my faith journey by my grandfather. He came from a traditional Irish family that settled in Yorkshire in the late 1800s. He eventually became, through his hard work and honest nature, a respected and successful businessman in Bradford.
Essentially, he was a man of God and loved the church, but he didn’t really speak of these things. The thing I noticed about him was his love for everyone and his gentle love for me, his granddaughter. The way he lived had a big effect on me and greatly influenced decisions I made in later life.
Now Declan and I are the grandparents! The parents of our four grandchildren have chosen not to educate their children in the faith. We respect their decisions while trying to discover new ways to pass on faith values, offered with creativity, fun and love.
One is to spend time with our grandchildren where they live in Paris. Pope Francis tells us: “Time is greater than space.” Since our four grandchildren live abroad, the time we spend with them is even more important. In this time spent together, we try to love our grandchildren with patience, tenderness, kindness, mercy and forgiveness.
We too experience their love and mercy. Of course, we are far from perfect and make lots of errors along the way, and in family life we cannot hide behind a mask. Our grandchildren can see our authenticity or lack of it.
When we visit our grandchildren, we all sit together around the table for dinner. But sometimes our son a person who impresses us with his love toward all 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, 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, this we hope is noticed by our grandchildren.
A second way we pass on our faith is by sharing important things with our grandchildren. Spending time with them allows us to speak, when the moment is right, “of important things with simplicity and concern” (Amoris Laetitia 260).
We 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,” said Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare.
A third way is prayer. We are not in a position to pray with our grandchildren. But of course, we can pray for them. And when out for a walk with them, we might sometimes visit a church. Once we happened on a Eucharistic adoration where they received blessings. We have enjoyed with them the silence of being in church. They notice that we go to Mass, and occasionally they have asked to come to Mass with us.
Our grandchildren don’t read Bible stories. But over Christmas, we got a lovely pop-up children’s book, and I read our two grandsons the story of Christmas, which they had never heard. 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,” as Pope Francis wrote in Amoris Laetitia (290).
Shared at the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin.
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