NAJAR: The vocation of grandparents

May 28, 2024

When using the term vocation, our minds may automatically think of a religious or marriage vocation. But what about the vocation of grandparents? The Old Testament portrays the vital role that elders play in our salvation history, including the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  

The New Testament reveals the presence of the elderly Simeon and Anna, who witnessed the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple, as well as Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary. What they share is a faithful and attentive listening to God’s presence in their lives. Isn’t that at the heart of a grandparent’s vocation? To listen closely and pay loving attention to their grandchildren. 

Grandparents share with the child’s parents the critical role of witnessing to their Catholic faith and catechizing the presence of Jesus in their lives — sometimes with words and sometimes by their actions.  One of my earliest religious memories as a five-year-old came from an encounter with my maternal grandmother. After a day of Christmas shopping, she took me to the cathedral in Tijuana and invited me to kiss the baby Jesus. Although I didn’t fully understand the experience, it imprinted a lasting memory of a tender kiss associated with prayer — an incarnational connection with our God. 

The vocation of a grandparent or elder is simply the continuation of one’s vocation as a Christian disciple — now as an instrument in God’s service to pass on one’s faith to future generations. After a long life of efforts and sacrifices, with their share of successes and mistakes, grandparents possess the wisdom, experience and compassion to share with the Church.  

They provide powerful evangelizing testimony to their grandchildren and support their grandchildren’s parents through their fidelity to the Eucharist, devotions like the Rosary, and a life of prayer. They offer specific stability and cohesiveness to help young families weather the storms of life as they themselves, with God’s help, have also done. 
As a fundamental part of society, their mission offers future generations the guiding light of Christ as the Psalmist notes: “Even in old age they produce fruit, they remain fresh and luxuriant to proclaim what is right, which is Yahweh: my rock and there is no falsehood in Him.” (Ps 9: 15-16). 

St. John Paul II in 1999 wrote a letter to the elderly. In it, he heralded old age as a favorable time for the culmination of human existence and a part of the divine project of each man, as that moment in life in which everything converges, thus allowing (the elderly) to understand the meaning of life better and to achieve “wisdom of the heart” (n.8). 
The richness of our immediate history is a treasure deposited in grandparents or the elderly to be guarded and transmitted to future generations. Each person’s story is strengthened with a sense of identity and belonging in families, passed on from generation to generation.  

Since 2021, Pope Francis has called the Church annually to observe the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents, as World Day for grandparents and elders; this year’s theme: “Do not cast me off in old age” (Ps 71) and will be celebrated on Sunday, July 28. 

Olga Najar is an associate director of the Office of Aging.

(OSV News photo)