The tradition of St Joachim and St Ann (whose feast day is on 26 July) was first started in the Eastern Orthodox church and over time it has been adopted as a special devotion to the grandparents of Jesus in the Roman Catholic church too. According to some early writings they were an elderly wealthy and devout couple who lamented their childlessness. Joachim was reproached in the temple for his sterility and retreated into the countryside to pray. Ann grieved over her barrenness too and promised God that if he granted her a child she would dedicate it to the Lord’s service. Both received a vision of an angel who announced that they would have a very special child. This child was Mary, who at age three was taken to the temple to be brought up there in fulfillment of their promise. What happened to them later is not certain but the value of children as a fruit of marriage and in a family is clearly brought out. A similar thing happened to Elizabeth, Mary’s elderly cousin was became pregnant too and a reminder of Hannah in the Old Testament from whom Mary quoted in her song of praise the Magnificat.
Pope Francis took this story of Mary going in haste to Elizabeth as the basis for both this 3rd Day of Grandparents and the Elderly on 23 July and World Youth Day which will happen soon. He asks all young people, grandparents and elderly persons everywhere to pray for one another and reflect on the importance of their interconnectedness and the value of this important relationship.
His homily for the special Mass for the on 23 July, was built on the gospel of the day, the parable of the wheat and the darnel weeds. Luke…….. He explored its spiritual aspects for all the elderly but particularly for grandparents too. He states that In the parable, and in reality, wheat and weeds live side by side and so we ask what we should do? Uprooting the weeds would come from a good intention but could be impulsive and even aggressive. We think we are the ones who can make things right, but we could also pull out and destroy the good wheat, that is block people from moving forward. Pope Francis then says, “Let us listen to Jesus, let both of them grow together until the harvest. How beautiful is this vision of God, teaching us about mercy. This invites us to be patient with others, and in our families, in the Church and society, to welcome weakness, delays and limitations, not to let ourselves grow accustomed to them, but to learn to act with respect, caring for the good wheat gently and patiently. He stresses that the purification of the heart and the victory over evil are essentially God’s work. He then refers to “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 and mistakes. Today the Lord offers us a gentle word that invites us to accept the mystery of life with serenity and patience, to leave judgment to him, and not to live regretful and remorseful lives. Old age is indeed 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.
In society we may tend to look at older people, rather than inside them. We talk about their usefulness, or their loneliness, sometimes abandonment, exploitation and abuse, which are very real, but do so in practical terms. There is a spirituality of all the stages of life and various theories about personality and spiritual development. According to Erikson in brief, there are developmental tasks at different stages, finding one’s identity, learning intimacy, mutuality, generating of new life and eventually looking back on our lives. Have we achieved integrity or do we look back with despair? Pope Francis indirectly, but much more gently refers to this type of process and concludes, “it is as if Jesus wants to say to us, “Look at the good wheat that has sprouted along the path of your life and let it keep growing, entrusting everything to me, for I always forgive: in the end the good will be strong than the evil.” May this experience of reflecting on our lives and experiencing some of the closeness with our grandchildren, be the blessing he wishes for us. TR FAMILY WEEKLY E-NEWSLETTER 26 July 2023