A few years ago, my daughter and I went to a nearby church that featured a relic of St. Anthony of Padua. We took her three children and another one of my grandchildren to experience it. Our goal was to bring all of the kids into church to see the relic, say a prayer, and maybe light a candle. It would be a great accomplishment considering they were four, two, two, and 10 months.
We entered the hushed and prayerful place and managed to keep things relatively quiet. However, three toddlers, a baby, and two adults do attract some attention. Still, all was going well as they looked at the relic and then touched it. Then we went to light a candle. These were the real ones—not the electronic push-button type—so we had to be careful as we guided the long, fiery stick to the wick.
Of course, the children loved this part. And, of course, we had to tell them they could not light all of the candles or blow out others like there was a birthday cake. We then suggested the children say a little prayer or make an intention or thank God for something.
They nodded with the earnestness that oozes from an innocent child. Then one of my grandsons spread his arms wide open and proclaimed in a loud voice, “Thank you, God, for dinosaurs!”
The next child followed, thanking God in an equally loud voice for dinosaurs. The cousin crew may have mentioned books or candy or something else they deemed as great gifts from God.
The whole experience drove home how much I love my grandchildren and how much I love the God who brought dinosaurs into the world. I wanted to throw my arms open and shout out loud, “Thank you, God, for grandchildren!”
That day, we thought we were bringing the children to church to enrich their young faith. We wanted to expose them to the beauty of our faith and to the communion of saints. I hope we did.
However, the children ended up inspiring me and all around them. Their genuine communication with God and clear trust deepened my faith.
I think this might be what Pope Francis had in mind when he and the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life created the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. The theme for the first year’s observance, “‘I am with you always’ is also a promise of closeness and hope that young and old can mutually share. Not only are grandchildren and young people called upon to be present in the lives of older people, but older people and grandparents also have a mission of evangelization, proclamation and prayer, and of encouraging young people in their faith.”
The mutual spreading of the faith can be beautiful.
Of course, it is not always easy to bring little ones to church or to talk with a teen or tween about God. But it is worth the effort. We get to expose young people to a faith that will help them throughout life.
And they get to be in places where they will be touched by God’s grace and share their unique insights. It’s not easy. I have met many older Catholics who ache because their children no longer go to church or their grandchildren are not baptized.
But older people often can make a difference with young ones. Try these ideas together:
And if you can, try to attend church with a child. And if a grandchild climbs into your lap while you are in the pew, then cherish that slice of heaven and know that God is at work in both of you.