One of the many lessons I learned vicariously through teaching high school students was the powerful spiritual influence exercised by our grandparents. Over and over again I read essays with remarks like “My Grandma prays the rosary everyday” and “My Grandpa goes to daily Mass and prays for us.” In a world that deems productivity the most important measure of value, leave it to kids to see with clear vision the beautiful witness of our elders.
When I was a child, trips to the assisted living facility where my Grandma Martin lived were always an adventure. The very first time we visited, my brother and I found the bathroom and couldn’t resist the urge to pull the string hanging in the shower. Dad sure was upset when a kind lady came running in worried that Grandma had taken a fall! Later on, when Grandma moved to the nursing home, our visits were no longer limited to just seeing her. Dad seemed to know everyone in the place and we quickly tired of the rather unpleasant smell and the strange antics of some of the residents. Only later on did I come to realize what Dad was up to … he was teaching us about the love that Christ expects from His followers. Somehow my Dad knew that these were people who were often lonely and only wanted someone to take the time to say “hello.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta once observed that our nursing homes had every amenity but that many of their residents were lonely nevertheless. Hearing that, I realized that my Dad had gotten it right. While many pro-life articles focus on the way we treat our youngest and most vulnerable members of society, another barometer of spiritual health is how we view our elders. Year after year the terrible threat of euthanasia comes before our state politicians and more and more narrowly it is defeated. This shows how threatened the evil one is by our grandparents, especially by those who are living their Faith with generosity.
My Grandma Breuer died two years ago in her 102nd year. She spent her last years faithfully praying the rosary with Mother Angelica on EWTN and attending Mass whenever she was able. These are the most formidable members of God’s army, especially when one considers that Our Lord conquered His ancient foe by prayer and suffering (ultimately dying and rising again).
My high school students were right to observe that “My Grandma is my spiritual hero. She prays for me all the time.” My Dad taught us about loving the weak and the elderly because Christ said we love Him every time we love one of the least of His people. My Dad is elderly and weaker now, suffering from dementia that gradually is preparing him for Heaven. I hope God will give me the grace to love my Dad in his weakness – that would mean his lessons were not taught in vain.
Father Samuel Martin
Pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Marshfield and Christ the King Parish in Spencer