by Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator for the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly
The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us: ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’. This idea of the seasons seems to fit very well, when we come to speak of our life-enhancing relationship with grandparents and the elderly. In the spring time of childhood and long summer of youth the shades of autumn and winter bring meaning and a sense of fullness and future promise. When we encounter the elderly, we meet the four seasons all beautifully intertwined and discover that just beneath the surface the promise of new life is abundant.
Thinking of the image of the seasons of life, I was drawn to a few words from the Christian writer and storyteller, C. S. Lewis, in his collection of reflections, A Grief Observed; ‘Autumn is really the best of the seasons; and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life.’ As I get older, I am inclined to agree with both these insights, as autumn conjures up in my mind images of maturity, fruitfulness, and vibrant colours. These are the special attributes that grandparents and the elderly bring to into our lives. In the autumn of the spiritual life too, this is the time when, from our storehouses of experience, we can share the fruits of our journey to sustain the young as they travel along the Way. In their turn, youth brings to the elderly the vigour, optimism and expectancy of spring. It is this complementarity that is the gift each brings to enrich the whole.
In what ways has our faith and journey through life been shaped, formed and re-formed by encountering those in the autumn of life? Having contact with the elderly or a grandparent is something very precious. What memories would you share with your children, or those to whom you come as a substitute grandparent? The latter term provides a special grace to those who, like me, grew up without the presence of grandparents, which is why being called to be a God-parent is such a privilege. It is a call to share in nurturing the inner spiritual life and well-being of the child.
If we hanker to always stay in the long summer of youth then we will miss the opportunities that autumn brings in our changing relationship to family and community. Whilst my hair has moved quickly from summer to winter, my spiritual life is entering into the richness of autumn and from that abundance I can share. I have the blessing of now being a grandparent, an art that I am learning to cultivate each day.
To express the closeness of God and of the Church to every older person, Pope Francis has chosen ‘I am with you always’ from the Gospel of Matthew as the theme for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. This phrase speaks powerfully of the intimacy and closeness between the young and old in sharing their lives with one another. The season of autumn awaits us all and the soil has been carefully nurtured over the centuries by the experience and wisdom of other grandparents and the elderly. We are called to contribute to the richness of that soil, so that we can be certain that our young saplings can grow in faith, hope, love and freedom.
Find more resources to celebrate the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly here
Header Photo: mazur/cbcew.org.uk