(This is Cardinal Wilton Gregory's “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the February 2021 editions of the Catholic Standard newspaper and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)
Only a year ago, for most of us the label Zoom may have referred to a camera-friendly lens that had the capacity to change optical distances or viewpoints. Zoom was what a camera lens could do to improve a photo by bringing a subject visually closer. The word Zoom has expanded its meaning, as we all now know so well. It has become the term that describes how many of us connect on the Internet with other people for meetings, conversations and work. We are understandably probably all weary of Zoom encounters, but begrudgingly grateful that we at least have that technology to connect with family, friends, school and work.
A few weeks ago, I had a Zoom meeting with some of my high school seminary classmates – some of whom I had not come across in more than 55 years. There were about 30 of us on the meeting. Most of them had already retired from their jobs, and some had moved far away from Chicago where we first met when we were 13-year-olds and freshmen students at one of the two high school day seminaries in the Archdiocese of Chicago. There were 660 of us in the first year high school seminary class of 1961 divided into the two high school seminary locations – one for youngsters who lived on the Southside and another for those living on the Northside of that archdiocese. Of those 660 freshmen, 285 of us eventually would graduate from the high school seminary. Most of those graduates went on to successful professional careers. Many became lawyers, a couple became doctors, several became social workers and public servants, some turned out to be prosperous business professionals, and a few served as university professors. Of the 285 high school graduates 48 of us were eventually ordained priests.
As we tried to catch up on the events of the past half-century in our lives, I could not help but hear a recurrent theme in their life stories. They were gratified to be husbands and fathers, but incredibly proud to be grandfathers. They spoke glowingly about their grandchildren. Many of them had moved to their current locations in order to be close to those precious grandchildren. Grandparenting was a source of extraordinary satisfaction and joy for them. The pandemic deprived them of the happiness of being with, hugging, and playing with their cherished grandchildren. Listening to them, I began to understand better my own sheer delight in engaging the children of the Archdiocese of Washington in schools, at liturgy, and during other social encounters.
Their sentiments are captured by grandparents everywhere. You’ve perhaps heard the reference attributed to grandparents: "If I would have known that grandchildren were going to be so much fun, I would have had them first!" For anyone fortune enough to have known a grandparent, they probably could wax eloquently on the sheer delight of visiting and spending time with those special folks.
Pope Francis has chosen to give grandparents and elders a well-deserved moment in our liturgical calendar. He has designated the fourth Sunday in July every year – near the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anna whom tradition ascribes as Jesus’ grandparents – as Grandparents’ Sunday. It may never rival the popularity of Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but it will liturgically recognize the importance that grandparents hold within a family.
Grandparents are the bridges to the past for youngsters. Youngsters themselves are the promise of tomorrow for their grandparents. This pandemic time has been trying for everyone, but I suspect especially difficult for grandparents whose delight in their grandchildren has been placed on the back-burner of their hearts.
At a September 2019 Grandparents’ Day Mass for St. Raphael School in Rockville, Sandra Schuler kisses her granddaughter, Kelsey deKowzan, then a third grader. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)