HOMILY SHARED BY BISHOP PAUL SSEMOGERERE FOR THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR GRANDPARENTS AND THE ELDERLY
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I welcome you all to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Today, we celebrate the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In a special way, for the very first time, Mother Church has also given us an opportunity to celebrate the International Day for the elderly and Grandparents. We have been celebrating the World Youth Day, Holy Childhood Day, Vocations’ Sunday, and other Days dedicated to praying for specific groups in the Church, but we had not yet celebrated a Day for the Elderly and Grandparents. We congratulate the elderly and grandparents upon reaching this Day.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis has instituted this Day, which will be celebrated every year on the Last Sunday of July. The Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anna, the Patron Saints of Grandparents, is celebrated on 26th July 2021. The Pope therefore chose the Sunday preceding this Feast as the Day on which the Universal Church will be praying for grandparents and the elderly in a special way every year.
2.0 TODAY’S THEME, “I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS” (MT. 28:20)
We are celebrating the First International Day for Grandparents and the Elderly under the theme, “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). The Holy Father chose this theme to highlight the fact that grandparents and the elderly should never despair despite the difficulties they may experience in life. Many elderly persons and grandparents face challenges such as social isolation and marginalization, abandonment, loneliness and diminishing of social contacts, among others. This has been worsened by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many elderly persons fell ill, some passed away, and many experienced extended periods of isolation because their relatives did not want them to contract the disease. The elderly have been particularly vulnerable during this pandemic. In this situation, the Holy Father in his Message for this Day has addressed these words of encouragement to all the elderly and grandparents, “The whole Church is close to you, and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone”. And most importantly, the Lord is close to you. He has made this promise to us, “I am with you always”.
3.0. THE LORD’S CLOSENESS IS ALSO PROVIDENTIAL
When the Lord is present, the situation never remains the same. This is what is communicated in today’s Gospel. The Gospel narrates the Miracle of the Multiplication of Bread and Fish. This Miracle manifests God’s providential care in a situation which seems hopeless. The Lord’s presence in the midst of this hungry community is what transforms a hopeless situation into a joyous one in which people eat and have their fill. Dear elderly people and grandparents, the situation may seem tough especially during this pandemic, but the Lord who promises us his abiding presence will see us through these challenges by His providence.
4.0. CONTRIBUTIONS OF ELDERS AND GRANDPARENTS
Nowadays, there is a growing perception of old age as a period of decline, a time of human and social inadequacy. However, with the celebration of this International Day for the elderly and grandparents, the Church wishes to emphasize that the elderly have a contribution to make in society. Their lives can still be fruitful especially when conditions are put in place to fulfill their great potential. Their contribution is especially seen in three particular areas:
4.1. They are the guardians of shared memory: Our grandparents and elders are guardians of the memory and traditions which we share with those who came before us. They are interpreters of values and ideals that guide life in society. To exclude the elderly is in a sense to deny the past, and a society which denies its past is like a tree without roots. It soon dries up. A society that minimizes its sense of history and ignores the past risks repeating the errors of the past. Our elders and grandparents are living embodiments of the past, hence their importance in society.
4.2. They transmit values to young generations: It is elders and grandparents who define the present by transmitting to the young generations what they received in turn. They transmit the wisdom of the ancients and are thus a link to the wisdom of our fathers. Old age is not only a time for transmitting wisdom but also a time for passing on religious values to the young generation who stand always in need of direction. For this reason, the Psalmist says, “You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, that I may proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come” (Ps. 71:17-18). In Old age, we are called to be proclaimers, not only of the wisdom of our fore-fathers, but also of the values of faith to the young generation.
4.3. Prayer: When the Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned on 11th February 2013, he indicated that he would continue to serve the Church through a life dedicated to prayer. As Christians, we are all called to a life of prayer, but the period of old age which is characterized by a reduction in the pace of activity, gives us greater time for recollection and prayer. It is no wonder that when Jesus is presented in the Temple (Lk. 2:22-40), it is two old people who recognize him as the Messiah: Simeon, who proclaims the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace” (Lk. 2:29) and Anna, an eighty-four year old widow (Lk. 2:38).
As elders and grandparents, we are called to live a life grounded in prayer and grounded in God. The only way to live well and be fruitful in old age is to live in God. That is why Psalm 92 says, “The righteous will flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a Lebanon Cedar…still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green”. Let us remain close to the Lord especially in prayer.
5.0. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE YOUNG GENERATION TOWARDS THE ELDERLY AND GRANDPARENTS
Regarding the elderly and grandparents, the Book of Leviticus 19:32 gives this command, “Rise in the presence of one with grey hair; honour the person of the older man”. As a society (and especially the younger generation), we are called to honour the elderly and grandparents. We honor them in 2 ways: by welcoming them and making good use of their qualities, and helping them.
5.1. Welcoming them and making good use of their qualities: Elders and grandparents are living encyclopedias of wisdom and guardians of vast treasures of human and spiritual experiences. Younger generations are invited to welcome the elderly. By welcoming the elderly, the younger generation will be able to foster inter-generational cooperation which is very crucial for society’s progress. In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit (no.191), when discussing the relationship between the younger generation and the elderly, Pope Francis says, “The world has never benefited, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations…When intergenerational relationships exist, a collective memory is present in communities, as each generation takes up the teachings of its predecessors and in turn hands on this legacy to its successors.”
5.2. Helping them: The third Chapter of the Book of Sirach gives a heartfelt exhortation in favor of parents, especially in their old age and concludes with a very grave affirmation, “Whoever deserts a father is no better than a blasphemer, and whoever distresses a mother is accursed to the Lord”. Younger generations are called to help the elderly and grandparents especially in this period when the pandemic has hit them so hard. Those who are still sick and frail need special attention to help them on the road to recovery. Those that are lacking need our special attention. We thank those people of goodwill who have generously contributed to the well-being of the elderly through donations of food and other items. In a special way, we thank the youth Offices at various levels, from the Episcopal Conference down to the Parish and sub-Parish levels, and all the youths out there who are taking care of the elderly. Thank you for your care and concern! May the Lord reward you abundantly!
As we celebrate the first International Day of the Elderly and Grandparents, let us all focus on the elderly in our families and communities. Let us appreciate their contribution to society while also helping them in all their necessities.
The Lord be with you!