Playing on his celebrated phrase “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor,” Pope Francis closed his General Audience on Wednesday, March 11, with a fulsome, “How I would like a Church that challenges the disposable culture with the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young people and the elderly!”
The old and the young are the twin towers of the great suspension bridge which morally upholds our civilization: the old represent Christianity’s memory and the young represent our future. Both are morally vital, and a culture eager to discard both risks forfeiting the engines that drive it forward.
In my life, the single most determinative social relationship was my childhood relationship with my grandmother. First, she brought me to the Church and fully handed me over for spiritual direction. Second, she passed on her own faith, as she understood it, simply, genuinely, and with loving fervor.
To this day, I still recite the childhood prayers she taught me. One of them invokes St. Joachim and St. Anne, the Lord’s grandparents. According to tradition, Joachim and Anne had trouble conceiving. Like Hannah in the Old Testament, who desperately turns to God to pray for a child, before she can conceive the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 1:10-20), St. Anne and her husband plead with God and He grants them the grace to conceive the Blessed Virgin.
For both Hannah and St. Anne, this hard-fought, late-life fertility is a special grace. For that reason, St. Joachim and St. Anne are looked to with special supplication for concerns that relate to difficult situations in family life.
From the Saints Anne & Joachim Novena:
You who know God’s will for husband and wife,
help us to live chastely
You who know God’s will for the family,
keep all families close to you.
You who suffered without children,
intercede for all infertile couples.
You who trusted in God’s will,
help us to respect God’s gift of fertility.
You who gave birth to the Blessed Mother,
inspire couples to be co-creators with God.
As we find ourselves living longer, we must seek ways to be fruitful in our old age. This does not necessarily mean to literally have more children but simply to find meaningful ways to contribute—the most important ones being prayer, counsel, and modeling hope and expectation like the prophetess Anna, who greets the infant Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:27-38).
In the case of my own grandmother, being productive in her old age meant raising me after my mother left El Salvador to come to the U.S. prospecting for a better life but before she could bring me here. My grandmother, well past her childbearing years, nonetheless became a “mother” again, for me, providing for me, guiding me and—most importantly—educating me in the faith.
Pope Francis, too, benefitted from a saintly grandmother. “I still carry with me always in my Breviary the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing the day of my priestly Ordination, and I read them often,” the Pope said: “and it does me good.”
God’s blessings always serve us well.