Editor’s Note: Please find the full text and English translation of Pope Francis’ homily as he celebrated Mass in Edmonton during his apostolic journey to Canada on July 26, 2022.
Today we celebrate the feast of the grandparents of Jesus. The Lord has brought us all together precisely on this occasion, so dear to you and to me. It was in the house of Joachim and Anne that the child Jesus met his elders and experienced the closeness, tender love and wisdom of his grandparents. Let’s think about our own grandparents and reflect on two important things.
First: we are the children of a history that must be preserved. We are not isolated individuals, islands. No one comes into the world detached from others. Our roots, the love that awaited us and welcomed us into the world, the families in which we grew up, are part of a unique story that preceded us and gave us life. We didn’t choose this story; we received it as a gift, a gift that we are called to cherish, because, as the Book of Sirach reminds us, we are “descendants” of those who preceded us; we are their “inheritance” (Sir 44:11). A heritage which, regardless of any claim to prestige or authority, intelligence or creativity in song or poetry, is centered on righteousness, on fidelity to God and his will. That’s what they passed on to us. In order to accept who we really are and how precious we are, we must accept as part of ourselves the men and women from whom we descend. They did not just think of themselves, but passed on to us the treasure of life. We are here because of our parents, but also because of our grandparents, who helped us feel welcome in the world. Often they are the ones who loved us unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. They took us by the hand when we were afraid, reassured us in the dark of night, encouraged us when in broad daylight we were facing important life decisions. Thanks to our grandparents, we received a caress from the history that preceded us: we learned that kindness, tender love and wisdom are the solid roots of humanity. It was in the homes of our grandparents that many of us breathed the fragrance of the Gospel, the strength of a faith that makes us feel at home. Thanks to them, we discovered this kind of “familiar” faith. For this is how faith is transmitted fundamentally, at home, through affection and encouragement, attention and closeness.
It is our history, of which we are the heirs and which we are called upon to preserve. We are children because we are grandchildren. Our grandparents left us a unique mark through their way of life; they gave us dignity and confidence in ourselves and in others. They have given us something that can never be taken away from us and which, at the same time, allows us to be unique, original and free. From our grandparents, we learned that love is never forced; she never deprives others of their inner freedom. This is how Joachim and Anne loved Marie; and this is how Mary loved Jesus, with a love that never stifled or held him back, but accompanied him in welcoming the mission for which he had come into the world. Let us try to learn it, as individuals and as a Church. May we learn never to pressure the conscience of others, never to restrict the freedom of those around us, and above all, never to fail to love and respect those who have gone before us and who are entrusted to our care. . Because they are a precious treasure that preserves a story greater than themselves.
The Book of Sirach also tells us that preserving the history that gave us life does not mean obscuring the “glory” of our ancestors. We must not lose their memory, nor forget the story that gave birth to our own lives. We must always remember those whose hands caressed us and who held us in their arms; because in this story we can find consolation in times of discouragement, a light to guide us and the courage to face the challenges of life. But cherishing their memory also means constantly returning to that school where we first learned to love. It is to wonder, faced with daily choices, what the wisest of the elders we have known would do in our place, what advice our grandparents and great-grandparents would have given us.
So, dear brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: are we children and grandchildren capable of safeguarding this treasure which we have inherited? Do we remember the good teachings we have received? Do we talk to our elders and take the time to listen to them? And, in our increasingly equipped, modern and functional homes, do we know how to reserve a space worthy of their memory, a privileged place, a small family memorial which, through images and precious objects, allows us to remember in to pray to those who have gone before us? Have we kept their Bible, their rosary? In the fog of oblivion that darkens our turbulent times, it is essential to cultivate our roots, to pray for and with our ancestors, to devote time to remembering and preserving their heritage. This is how a family tree grows; this is how the future is built.
Now let’s think about the second important thing. In addition to being the children of a history to be preserved, we are the authors of a history to be written. Each of us can recognize ourselves for who and what we are, marked both by light and shadows, and by the love we have received or not. This is the mystery of human life: we are all children of someone, begotten and shaped by another, but in becoming adults we too are called to give life, to be father, mother or someone else’s grandparents. Thinking about the people we are today, what do we want to do with ourselves? The grandparents who preceded us, the elderly people who had dreams and hopes for us, and who made great sacrifices for us, ask us an essential question: what kind of society do you want to build? We have received so much from the hands of those who have gone before us. What do we, in turn, want to bequeath to those who will come after us? “Rose water” or living faith? A society based on personal profit or on fraternity? A world at war or a world at peace? A devastated creation or a house that continues to be welcoming?
Let us not forget that the vivifying sap goes from the roots to the branches, to the leaves, to the flowers, then to the fruit of the tree. Authentic tradition is expressed in this vertical dimension: from bottom to top. We must be careful not to fall into a caricature of tradition, which is not vertical – from the roots to the fruits – but horizontal – forwards and backwards. The tradition thus conceived leads us only to a sort of “upside-down culture”, a refuge of egocentrism, which only catalogs the present, confines it to the mentality which says: “We have always done as that “.
In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus tells the disciples that they are blessed because they can see and hear what so many prophets and righteous people could only hope for (cf. Mountain 13:16-17). Many people had believed in God’s promise of the coming of the Messiah, had prepared the way for him and announced his coming. But now that the Messiah has arrived, those who can see and hear him are called to welcome him and proclaim his presence among us.
Brothers and sisters, this also applies to us. Those who preceded us passed on to us a passion, a strength and an aspiration, a flame that it is up to us to rekindle. It is not a question of preserving the ashes, but of rekindling the fire which they lit. Our grandparents and our elders wanted to see a more just, fraternal and united world, and they fought to give us a future. Now it’s up to us not to disappoint them. Supported by those who are our roots, it is now up to us to bear fruit. We are the branches that must bloom and scatter new seeds of history. So let’s ask ourselves some concrete questions. Within the framework of the history of salvation, in the light of those who have gone before and loved me, what should I do now? I have a unique and irreplaceable role in history, but what mark will I leave behind? What do I pass on to those who will come after me? What do I give of myself? Often we measure our lives by our income, type of career, level of success, and how others perceive us. Yet these are not invigorating criteria. The real question is: do I give life? Am I introducing a new and renewed love into the story that didn’t exist before? Am I sharing the gospel in my neighborhood? Do I freely serve others, as those who came before me did for me? What am I doing for our Church, our city, our society? It’s easy to criticize, but the Lord doesn’t want us to be mere critics of the system, or to be closed and “backslidden”. Rather, he wants us to be artisans of a new story, weavers of hope, builders of the future, artisans of peace.
May Joachim and Anne intercede for us. May they help us to cherish the history that gave us life and, for our part, to build an invigorating history. May they remind us of our spiritual duty to honor our grandparents and our elders, to cherish their presence among us in order to create a better future. A future where older people are not pushed aside because, from a ‘practical’ point of view, they are ‘no longer useful’. A future that does not judge the value of people simply by what they can produce. A future that is not indifferent to the need of the elderly to be cared for and listened to. A future in which the history of violence and marginalization suffered by our indigenous brothers and sisters will never be repeated. This future is possible if, with God’s help, we do not break the bond that unites us to those who have gone before us and if we encourage dialogue with those who will come after us. Young and old, grandparents and grandchildren, all together. Let’s move forward together, and together, let’s dream.