Grandparents, share your stories!

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What stories did Jesus hear from his grandparents?

Did Joachim and Anna have a way with words, like their daughter Mary? Would Jesus have learned colorful expressions and turns of phrase from them along with knowledge of family history and the history of the people of Israel? We know that family was highly valued in the Jewish culture in which Jesus grew up. Listening to the elders was very important. Jesus would have been raised to soak up their words and stories. He would have heard stories of his ancestors, stories of his people and their journeys, their hope in God.

Learning the story of our family history is important for our sense of identity. It gives us strength and helps us face our challenges in life. My sisters, cousins and I joke about the “Viking blood” in our veins, but on a deep level, we know that we descend from a strength and fortitude that precedes us and urges us on. Our grandfather’s grandfather came here from Sweden at age 16, all on his own. Grandma’s Bavarian grandfather also came here in his teens, along with two brothers. I am in awe of these teenagers who ventured forth across the ocean, leaving behind everything they knew to create a new life.

They made it. They landed, they worked hard, and they succeeded. They had a vision for the future. They left a legacy, a gift handed to the generations that follow. Their integrity, their tenacity, their industry and their faith has made a mark on me, even though I never met them.

Our church teaches about the importance of grandparents for our identity, for our connection with the past and for a meaningful future. It teaches that the stories that grandparents tell their grandchildren are vitally important, and that we are to honor and respect them.

In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis writes, “Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future.”

Grandparents, you have skills, crafts, experience, wisdom and faith to share.

And we parents, children and grandchildren need to make time for this connection and these stories with warm and open hearts. As The Joy of Love says, “We must awaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like a living part of the community. Our elderly are men and women, fathers and mothers, who came before us on our own road, in our own house, in our daily battle for a worthy life.” We have much to learn from them, just as Jesus also learned from his grandparents.

Want a few ideas to help get those stories flowing? Here are some questions grandchildren can ask their grandparents:

What was school like when you were a kid?

What were your chores when you were my age?

What were holidays like?

What did you do for vacation?

What did your mom or dad “always say”?

What were your grandparents like?

What was my mom or dad like when they were little?

How did you learn about God? Do you remember your first Communion (if Catholic)?

Most of all, Catholic grandparents, share your faith in whatever way you can. Take your grandchildren to church to light a candle. Pray for them. Love them. Give them Catholic gifts and the good example of a life mature in virtue. Pass on the flame of the faith to the next generation and reflect to them the best qualities of earlier generations. These stories you share are treasures. They help us “make our families places where children can sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history.”

Northwest Catholic - May 2018

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is