The importance of grandparents is a topic I’m oddly passionate about. Both my maternal grandparents died before I was born and my paternal grandparents lived over an hour away and quite frankly they were not very grandparenty. So I had no real experience having grandparents like you see on TV. Because, of course, TV grandparents should be our models.. but I digress.
When I was about 13, I started cantering at church. The pianist was a woman named Lidia. She was about as stereotypical an Italian Catholic woman as you could be. She was stern, said exactly what she thought, stubborn, and one of the most loving, self-giving, hilarious women I’ve known. (Did I mention she had 11 children?) One of my favorite stories is of her chasing her grandsons around the kitchen with a wooden spoon. She became a pseudo-grandmother to me. And while my bond with her husband Frank was less strong, he, too, became a pseudo-grandparent. Eight years later, they would truly become my grandparents when I married one of their grandsons, but that’s another story entirely.
Knowing Lidia gave me a brief glimpse at what it meant to have grandparents.
Parents are there to raise you. Sure they love you unconditionally but their role is different. They have to set limits. They have to discipline you and help you plan your life.
But grandparents, their purpose is different. They are our connection to the past. Their stories root us in our heritage. They teach us circumspection, that this present time isn’t all there is, that life moves ever onward.
Grandparents are someone you can run to for parent-like advice when you can’t handle your parents. They give us a glimpse of who our parents were in their former life as children. Sometimes they’re more blunt and direct than our parents feel they can be. Sometimes they’re the kick in the pants we need to straighten up.
Even if you don’t have grandparents, extended family can provide a similar cornerstone in your life. In traditional societies, think up until the last century, it was more common than not to live with your grandparents or an aunt or uncle or two. You learned from your extended family, you grew up with your extended family, you played and ate and worked with your extended family. Extended family and grandparents played a vital role in shaping you into the adult you would one day become and passing down your history, traditions and heritage.
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saints Joachim & Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus grandparents of Jesus. (Apparently it’s pronounced “wal-keem”, just in case you were wondering.) There’s actually not much we know about Our Lady’s parents. They’re not mentioned in the Bible, but in the Gospel of James, which isn’t considered a true biblical text (it was deemed untrustworthy by 3 Popes!). The story as told in the Gospel of James mirrors that of Hannah (which is Arabic for Anne) and the birth of Samuel in the Old Testament. Legend says Joachim and Anne went years without conceiving a child before an angel told them they would have a child. Anne promised to dedicate the child to God.
The role of Sts. Joachim and Anne is so important in our Church history that we celebrate them through the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which isn’t about Mary conceiving Jesus, but about St. Anne conceiving Mary. The feast day, or rather the fact that Mary was in fact conceived and born without the stain of original sin, even became a dogma of the Church in 1854. They serve as a beautiful reminder that Christ became human. He had human grandparents who shaped His life – while whether they were alive when He was born or not isn’t known, they no doubt had an influence on Him through the way in which they raised His mother.
Sts. Joachim and Anne, pray for us!