Fr. Wilson Andrade is the pastor of St. Ann Parish and the Native Peoples’ Mission, both in Toronto, Ont.
There is a classic story of a people who were suffering through a severe drought. They decided to go to the church and pray to God for mercy, in the hopes that God would bless them with rain for the crops. Everyone gathered in the packed church.
A little boy who came regularly with his grandmother asked why everyone was gathered in the church today? The grandmother explained that all the people had to come to pray for rain. Then in a loud voice the boy cried, “Oh, Grandma! We are in great trouble! We forgot to bring the umbrella!”
This year Pope Francis announced a new celebration. It is the first-ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. It will be celebrated every year on the fourth Sunday of July. The day is close to the Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus.
How then, will we truly honour and celebrate this great day for our grandparents and the elderly in our families and in our society? Based on the Scriptures, let us reflect on these three phrases taken from the liturgy: Soul Satisfaction; Spiritual Search; and Sacred Source.
“Lord, you satisfy all our needs.” The psalm response this weekend helps us to identify that it is God who satisfies all our needs, not any earthly power.
Both the miracles of the multiplication of bread by the prophet Elisha and then the feeding of the 5,000 by Jesus shows us how God’s grace is at work fulfilling human needs. They ate to their heart’s content – or, as I would call it, their “soul satisfaction” – and there was even leftovers.
These readings invite us to believe in God’s providence, God’s generosity to every person. Despite this, we often question and doubt, just like the servants of Elisha and Philip, by asking: “How can I?” or “Where are we to buy bread?”
When we trust in God, we see how a small offering of five loaves and two fishes can feed 5,000 with leftovers. We learn how a small step can contribute to making a giant leap. How a helping hand can bring about a life transformation in another person. A simple smile can bring joy to many around us.
As St. Mother Teresa reminds us: “not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
It was Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, who explained that all humans have needs that we tend to in a hierarchical order. The basic physical needs of food and clothing are to be met before we can move on to the emotional needs of friendship, which leads us to the higher spiritual needs of esteem and self- actualization.
Similarly, the Scriptures invite us to reflect on how we are meeting our physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and how we are growing spiritually?
We can admire the witness of faith that St. Paul gives. Being in prison, he asserts and encourages everyone to remain spiritually strong and safe. He reminds them: “to lead a life worthy of the calling” and “in humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love, maintaining unity of spirit in the bond of peace.”
Like St. Paul, we need to aim at fulfilling our spiritual needs by working for the wellbeing of all people, by sharing in the oneness of baptism, faith and hope. As a great Jesuit priest and scientist, Peirre Teilhard de Chardin, said: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Let us work for the spiritual wellbeing of all God’s children.
St. Augustine said: “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever, and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”
In order to satisfy our spiritual needs, we cannot forget that the sacred source exists within the divinity of God. As St. Paul said, through the body and the spirit, we experience the power of “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” From the sacred source of God’s love, we find the fulfillment of our needs. The grace to love is transmitted and nurtured in our human history by our ancestors in faith.
Today, as we honour our grandparents, the elderly and those holy men and women of our family and community, we thank God for their courage and their witness to love. The pandemic times have challenged us to reflect on how we take care of the elderly of our society. Many have felt increasingly neglected, isolated and lonely. Our elders have contributed so much to our growth, and to our spiritual wellbeing. In the words of Pope Francis:
“How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please take care of your grandparents; love them and let them talk to your children!”
On this first World Day for Grandparents and Elderly, let us pledge to provide better care and support for the seniors of our society. We dedicate them under the patronage of St. Ann and St. Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus. We pray that grandparents and our elders feel respected, cared for and loved.
We conclude with the entrance antiphon of the Feast of Saints Anne and Joachim:
“Let us praise Joachim and Anne, to whom, in their generation, the Lord gave Him who was a blessing for all the nations.”
St. Anne and St. Joachim – Pray for us.
This homily is based on the readings for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalms 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15.