Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady for Ireland’s third National Grandparents’ Pilgrimage

14 Sep 2009

12 September 2009

Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, for Ireland’s third National Grandparents’ Pilgrimage, Knock

“We salute with gratitude the Christian vocation of being a grandparent … So I say, tell your grandchildren all you know about God.  [Your] role in Irish families has always been cherished … it is one of the things which made our society strong, especially in the most challenging economic times in our history” – Cardinal Brady

My sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,

What a joy to see so many of you – but especially so many grandparents – gathered here at Mary’s Shrine. I extend a warm welcome to you all.

I am sure like me, you always feel so ‘at home’ here at Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock. The Mother of God wants us to feel at home in her presence. She wants us to feel at home with her Son and with the whole company of heaven in every celebration of the Eucharist. Here the beautiful representation of Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist with the Eucharistic Lamb of God, here at the Apparition Chapel in Knock are a rich and beautiful gift to each one of us and to our country.

I pray that, as a country and as individuals, we will always be worthy of such a wonderful gift. I pray that, as individuals and as a country, we will always honour the faith of our own grandparents and great grand-parents.  It is a faith that is reflected in this serene and prayerful place and treats it with the respect and reverence it deserves.

I extend a particular welcome today to all who have gathered to celebrate this wonderful event of the Third National Pilgrimage for Grandparents. I congratulate Archbishop Neary, Catherine Wiley, Monsignor Joseph Quinn and all those who have been involved in this tremendous initiative. It has certainly touched a chord with so many people.

It has become almost a habit to say that Ireland is changing. This event today reflects one of the most wonderful and welcome changes in Ireland in recent times.  In the past fifty years, life expectancy in Ireland has increased by almost ten years. It is estimated that by 2050 one in four of the population in Ireland will be over sixty-five.

Average life expectancy will also go up five more years to 82. So I think we can continue to count on the National Pilgrimage for Grandparents having a captive audience for some years to come. In fact, I understand there are already more great-grandparents in Ireland today than ever before. So I warmly congratulate all the great-grandparents who are here today. If you keep going the way you are we will soon have to have a special day for great-grandparents too! When you have a few grey hairs like me – that it is a very welcome thought!

Last week I got a letter from an 87 year old lady.  She wanted me to offer a special word of encouragement to parents in their efforts to promote the values of the Gospel.  She said that the people she sees, who are mostly doing this, are the mothers, feeding, washing, clothing, caring, sometimes day and night.  Today I gladly offer that word of encouragement to all parents, and especially to all grandparents who also do their work.  I gladly accept the challenge to get the message of encouragement out there to parents and to all who give themselves so generously in the cause of caring for others.

Yet in acknowledging this challenge I also want to acknowledge one of the other big and very positive changes in Irish society since most of the grandparents present were born. When most of us were growing up the role of fathers in bringing up children was the not the same as it is today. It was just as vital – but perhaps not as involved in the day to day care of the child.  It is wonderful that more and more men in Ireland now have a better sense of the partnership that should exist between a husband and wife in all aspects of bringing up children and keeping a home. It is absolutely right that men should be doing the dishes more, making the bottle and ironing the clothes! The men of Ireland got away with not doing these things for far too long!

It is also critical that men play their proper role in the social and emotional development of their children. The role of both a mother and a father in a child’s life is irreplaceable. Others, including grandparents, can do a marvellous job where either parent or both parents can no longer be part of a child’s life, for whatever reason.

However, nothing will ever replace marriage between a man and a woman as the best environment for raising children. But grandparents have a critical role to play in this regard too. You have the wisdom of experience. You can show the young that being a loving, committed parent is part of being fulfilled and happy, not an obstacle to it.

Any society which diminishes the value of the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, diminishes the very foundation of society itself.

Another significant change in our society in recent years is the increasingly central role being played by you – the grandparents of Ireland.  I refer to your role in supporting the economic and parenting needs of your own children.

The role of grandparents in Irish families has always been cherished in a particular way. It is one of the things which made our society strong, especially in the most challenging economic times in our history. It was not unusual in years gone by for grandparents to live with their children and grandchildren in the same home. It was commonplace for children to take on financial responsibility for their parents as they grew older.

In recent years, however, the economic and practical dependency of parents on grandparents has increased significantly. The situation has reversed. It has to be acknowledged that today’s generation of grandparents laid the foundation for the society of today.  Over the years they have probably contributed more in working hours and the percentage of their wages paid in tax than ever before. It also has to be acknowledged that it is your time and money which is now holding many families in this country together as they struggle with the consequences of the global economic crisis. The ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ – or more accurately of ‘Grandma and Granda’ – were critical to the success of the Celtic Tiger. As young families search for bigger deposits for dearer mortgages, the resources of grandparents will be critical to the success and pace of our economic recovery.

And yet your greatest contribution to Ireland’s well being and recovery is far more than financial. Last Sunday I spoke to a grandmother.  She told me, with a certain deep satisfaction, how her four grandchildren come to her every evening after school.  In fact, all of her fourteen grandchildren have done this.  She was pleased. Even though it could be exhausting, it was something she treasured and enjoyed.

So today we salute with gratitude the Christian vocation of being a grandparent. Being a grandparent is how you today, at this particular stage of your life, live out the call of your baptism. In that Baptism you share in Christ’s role as Priest, Prophet and King.

By your many acts of support and kindness towards your children and grandchildren, you are exercising your royal priesthood. By the sacrifices you make of time and money you live out your Royal Priesthood in a real and effective way. By your example of being faithful to God and to his Church you are a witness, a prophet in the lives of your children and grandchildren. By your willingness to so often put your own needs and financial security aside for the sake of the needs of your children and grandchildren, you are a witness to the selfless love of Christ.  You are prophet of the Kingdom of God in your family and in our society. By teaching your children and grandchildren to pray – as you so often do – you give them the most precious lesson they will ever learn.  By teaching them to hope in a higher power and a greater love, you protect them against something more dangerous than something like Swine Flu.  You protect them against the deadly danger of despair.

Then there are all those practical little things you do about the house.  You do them for your children and their families.  You probably don’t take that much notice of them yet they are so important for through them you show your concern for those for whom you have responsibility in the world.  By showing your good deeds in this way you are proving that you have faith.  As St James says in that Second Reading – ‘Faith is like that.  If good deeds do not go with it, it is quite dead.

Today the Catholic Grandparents Association is being officially launched.  This Association aims to help grandparents hand on their faith to their grandchildren.  That will be symbolised by the lighting of the candle and handing it on at the end of the Mass.  You grandparents, have so much wisdom to offer to everybody. Yet you are the critical link between the promise of the future and the wisdom of the past. You are the generation who can help us to keep the current crises in our lives, in our economy in our world in perspective. We have gone through difficult – perhaps more difficult times before. And we have come through them only to go on and to improve our society again and again.

Like the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading you know what it is to strive after the comfort and beauty of material things only to discover that: ‘Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.’ In the words of our Gospel, you know what it is to take up your Cross, to unite your sufferings in patience with those of our Lord, and to survive. Indeed, to find new and deeper dimensions of life.

As ‘older people’ – notice that I didn’t say ‘old people’ – precisely because of your age and your experience you can bring a deeper meaning to the important questions.  For example,

– What will really count when we come to die?
– What are the really important things?
– Who do you say that Jesus Christ is?
– How do you pray?

I once knew an ambassador’s wife who used to ask her dinner guests – ‘And you, how do you pray?’ Could you imagine a Red C Poll based on those questions.  No, I can’t.  The reason is simple:  the modern world is deadly serious and indeed extremely wise about lots of frivolous things but, at the same time, it can be totally frivolous about important questions such as: ‘Who do you say that Christ is?’

And so I make a particular appeal to you today. Grannies and Grandads always love to tell good stories and good news.  How often have you rejoiced at the wonder of your grandchildren as you tell them good news or told them about wonderful things that happened in the past that taught you something important about life..  So I say, tell your grandchildren all you know about God.  Tell them the story of Jesus and the stories which Jesus told.  Tell them who Jesus Christ is for you and why?  You can be absolutely sure they will be very interested.

You have come to Knock to pray for your children and for your grandchildren.  You have come to ask the help of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the help of her mother, St Anne, for those you love, especially for those who are sick.  You have come to ask the help of the Holy Spirit to guide them wisely and safely through life.  You are here to ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit for yourselves, to remind you of all that Jesus said and did, so that you, in turn, can hand on to them the good news that Jesus loves them.  You are here to ask the Holy Spirit, who descended upon Mary, to descend and help you to teach your grandchildren to pray and to talk to them about how God has helped you.  When Jesus was presented in the Temple it was the senior citizens Simeon and Anna who recognised him – not the priests, not the Doctor of the Law.

You are here because like Peter, you believe that Jesus Christ – the anointed one – is the Saviour of the world.  You are here to pray and intercede for many gifts for yourselves and for those whom you love.
You are here to ask that your children and grandchildren may come to know that Jesus Christ is the one and only Saviour.  Perhaps you are here because you have learned from your own experience that if anyone wants to be a follower of Christ, he or she must take up the cross and follow him. Perhaps you are here precisely because you have had to carry a heavy cross – and you know that, at times, you would not have been able to carry that cross without the help which you received from God almighty.

Whatever the reason – you can be absolutely sure that you are here because God wants you to be here for some good reason.

I believe Mary our Mother will help you. I believe Jesus her Son will help you. I believe that Jesus and his Mother rejoice in your every effort to love and care for your children and grandchildren. I believe they look to you in a particular way to pass the light of their faith and love to the next generation of young Irish men and women who will make this country great and each of you very proud.

Prayer to St Anne

O glorious St Anne,
You are filled with compassion for those who invoke you And with the love for those who suffer.
Heavily burdened with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you To take the present intention which I recommend to you in your special care.
Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, And place it before the throne of Jesus So that He may bring it to a happy issue.
Continue to intercede for me until my request is granted.
But above all obtain for me the grace, one day, to see my God face to face,

And with you and Mary and all the saints to praise and bless Him for all eternity.



Further information
Martin Long 086 1727678
Brenda Drumm 087 2337797