Grandparents and Faith
. . . This is also where grandparents could help, either by filling the parental void where it exists, or by reinforcing the efforts of conscientious parents who strive to share their faith with their offspring. In both cases, the grandparents will do their part to forge this intergenerational “alliance” of which Pope Francis speaks.
In one of the Wednesday audience addresses he gave on aging, Pope Francis said what he called “the alliance of generations” was “indispensable”.
“A society in which the elderly do not speak with the young, the young do not speak with the elderly, is a sterile society,” the pope said.
It’s a sobering thought. But also implicitly positive at a time when many parents are struggling – or in some cases not really trying – to transmit religious faith to their children. In both cases, conscientious grandparents could step in to fill an obvious need.
Do you think that’s judging parents too harshly? In their book “Handing Down the Faith” (Oxford University Press), sociologists Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk report that parents play by far the most important role – more important than churches, schools or anything else. another – in the formation of children’s religion.
The bad news, they say, is the situation described by a study showing that only 17% of Catholic parents consider it “very important or essential” that their children share their faith. (Traditional Protestants also came in at 17%, Jews at 13%, Unitarians at 0%.)
If you’re wondering why so many children are turning away from religion, the answer starts here.
But this is also where grandparents could help, either by filling the parental void where it exists or by reinforcing the efforts of conscientious parents who strive to share their faith with their offspring. In both cases, grandparents will do their part to forge this intergenerational “alliance” of which Pope Francis speaks.
Allow me here to commend to your attention an unassuming little book offering simple and practical advice to those who doubt their ability as religious educators. “Hope for Your Grandchildren: Talking to the Third Generation About What Matters” is the title. It is the work of Stephen Gabriel, a Catholic author and grandfather living and writing in Washington, DC, in the suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, and is published by Sceptre.
The book is in the form of letters from Gabriel to his young adult grandchildren. In a brief introduction to other grandparents, he explains that the letters are intended as “examples or models” to help readers formulate their own approaches to grandchildren. It doesn’t say so, but it seems to me that parents would also find it useful.
The 16 short letters cover an interesting variety of topics ranging from God to work to dealing with difficulties. The writing is direct and precise, as in this one on vocation: “God our Lord has a plan for each person he creates: his holiness. In this universal Christian vocation to holiness, he has a specific project for each of us. . You will discover this call if you develop a personal relationship with Christ.
Or this about sex: “The world pushes very dangerous ideas about sex… God gave
you a libido that is meant for good. However, it is meant to be used correctly. We are not beasts that act purely on instinct. We can control ourselves (contrary to what some will tell you). But we have to be smart and avoid situations that can lead to problems.”
At the end, Gabriel summarizes his book as advice to help grandchildren become “better friends, better husbands or wives, and better citizens.” This resonates with Smith and Adamczyk’s emphasis not just on “how to” – setting a good example for children – but on “speaking the word” – speaking directly to children about faith and values. “Hope for Your Grandchildren” is a timely and helpful guide to achieving this.
– Russell Shaw is the author of over twenty books. He is a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and has served as director of communications for the American bishops.
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