What’s it take to be a good Catholic grandparent?

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First, the comforting news: Being a good Catholic will help you be a good grandparent. Being a good grandparent will help you be a good Catholic.

And, of course, there’s also that tight relationship between better Catholic and better grandparent.

Oh, that God of ours! Always one step ahead of us. Well, more than one, obviously.

For example, you may have noticed that God seldom gives the job of grandparenting to someone who hasn’t already paid his or her dues parenting.

Yes, there are exceptions, but it seems most often, in many ways, grandparenting is the equivalent of golf’s mulligan. It’s God giving you a do-over to deeply influence a child’s heart, soul and mind, from tot to teen … and beyond.

To love that grandchild with your whole heart, mind and soul … and spend some time minding them. You free baby-sitter, you! But unlike becoming a new mom or dad — where you learn (and make mistakes) on the fly — now, as a veteran parent, you know a thing or two.

Looking back since the birth of your own child or children, you can be keenly aware of “what you have done and what you have failed to do” (to borrow a line from the Confiteor). You know you weren’t, and aren’t, a perfect parent. You know you won’t be a perfect grandparent.


That little child, those little children, are God’s way of — no, not turning back the clock — giving you another at-bat. A second chance to step up to the plate. Hot dog!

Apparently (pun, ha!), God has faith in your helping a brand new generation be a witness. To see firsthand, to learn one to one, what the Faith means. How it can be lived out. Loved out.

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Being Christlike

We all know the Gospels never described those early followers of Christ as monkey-see, monkey-do, but they did learn a lot by watching how Jesus did what he did.

The love, the compassion, the feeding, the healing, the putting others first, the sacrifices, forgiveness and yes, the telling of some colorful and memorable stories to make his point while teaching.

So … how ’bout that?

To be grandparent-like is to be Christlike. And to be Christlike is to be one jim-dandy grandparent.

Come to think of it, your baked cinnamon rolls or gingersnap cookies, barbecued burgers, grilled Oscar Mayer wieners or some other family favorites, are not unlike Jesus having the coals ready on the beach for cooking the fish the disciples had just caught (Jn 21:9-19).

Then, too, since his resurrection, “the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), continues to feed us, to offer us himself under the appearances of bread and wine.

Yes, there may have been times you might have preferred he had said, “I am the warm chocolate chip cookie that has …” — not to blaspheme here — but think about it: God saved that role (no, not “roll”) for you and your grandchild. You, the grill-master/cookie-queen, chosen by heaven to make that youngster or youngsters such divine-ish treats.

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Passing down the Faith

Again, our dear God, is always infinite steps ahead of us.

For instance, the “Lord of the Long View,” having your parent or grandparent patiently help you learn about cupcakes or sub sandwiches. About this or that or another skill. As you went on to do with your children. And can now do with your grandchildren.

God willing, they may end up teaching those same how-tos to their kids or grandkids.

And beyond food, there was, is and later may be: Playing patty cake. Hosting a “tea party.” Drawing a stickman, woman or dog. Playing Crazy Eights. Whistling. Folding and flying a paper airplane. Knitting and/or spitting.

It may come to be said one of the finest legacies passed down from generation to generation in your family is how to make the world’s best snickerdoodles.

Which, thank you, God, can also be a conduit for passing down the Faith.

So much can be said, shared and shown while rolling that dough in sugar and cinnamon. It’s not multiplying the loaves and the fishes, but it is love — love, so necessary to even imagine a God who is love.

Small wonder it’s easier to believe in a Heavenly Father after being so close to an earthly grandma or grandpa.

Little Jorge Bergoglio and his Grandma Rosa

News reporters who have covered Pope Francis throughout his papacy have noticed that in many addresses, in many countries and on many occasions, grandparents and elders are among his most popular topics. This includes sharing with his audience the strong and cherished influence his own grandma had — and memories of her continue to have — on him. And, it can be said, on his papacy.

Here are some his reflections on the gift of grandparents:

  • “The words of grandparents contain something special for young people. And they know it. The words that my grandmother gave me in writing the day of my priestly ordination I still carry with me, always, in the breviary. And I read them often and they do me good.”
  • “We pray for our grandfathers, our grandmothers, who so often play a heroic role in the transmission of the faith in times of persecution. When mom and dad weren’t home or when they had strange ideas, which the politics of the time taught them, it was the grandmothers who passed on the faith.”
  • “One of the most beautiful things in life, in the family, in our lives, is caressing a child and letting yourself be caressed by a grandfather or a grandmother.”
  • “Grandparents are a treasure. Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.”

But, Pope Francis points out, it isn’t just grandparents but all elders who are offered this vocation that, literally, takes decades of preparation. Among other things, he has said:

  • “The elderly are those who transmit history to us, who transmit doctrine, who transmit the faith and give it to us as an inheritance.”
  • “It is also important to promote the bond between generations. The future of a people requires the encounter between young and old: the young people are the vitality of a people ‘on the way’ and the elderly reinforce this vitality with memory and wisdom.”
  • “The Church regards the elderly with affection, gratitude and high esteem. They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society: in particular they represent the roots and the memory of a people. You are an important presence, because your experience is a precious treasure, which is essential if we would look to the future with hope and responsibility. Your maturity and wisdom, accumulated over the years, can help younger people in search of their own way, supporting them on the path of growth and openness to the future.”
  • “In a world like this, in which strength and appearance are often mythologized, your mission is to bear witness to the values that really matter and that endure forever because they are engraved on the heart of every human being and guaranteed by the word of God. Precisely as people in the so-called ‘third age,’ you, or rather we because I too am one of them we are called to work for the development of the culture of life, witnessing that every season of life is a gift from God and has its own beauty and its importance, though marked by fragility.”

A new generation to fear for

Still, as every 5-year-old knows: Life isn’t fair.

No, grandparenting isn’t a constant ode to joy. There are times when it’s a serious song with such sad or … concerning … lyrics.

Perhaps Jesus’ grandparents experienced that. Maybe it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine St. Joachim’s and St. Anne’s first reaction when Mary told her parents she was pregnant.

A loud gulp from him. A quiet gasp from her.

Yes, God will, and did, provide. Yes, oh yes, those grandparents had incredible faith.

And also had, it seems safe to speculate, some fear. As all grandparents do.

Days — and nights — of challenges, tears, headaches, heartaches and a whole new generation to worry about. Including discovering that when your adult child is having a hard time with their son or daughter, you need to “double-storm” heaven with your prayers. For your grandchild who is having problems, and for your son or daughter who is his or her primary caregiver.

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5 more points

Now, all that being said (and lived), a few more points to consider:

1. Most likely you aren’t the frontline provider. Although sometimes a grandparent is the legal guardian of a grandchild. God bless them both. We all need to remember those families in our prayers, and in our acts of support.

2. You have an important part to play whether you and that grandchild (those grandchildren) live in the same household or half a world from each other. After all, God did also give you (and, well, all of us) the World Wide Web. He still has the whole wide world in his hands, and now you (sort of) have that , too.

3. As always, God shares. Created in his image, we’re supposed to, too. How, when it comes to grandparenting? Not surprisingly, that varies depending on how little those little ones are. Or how big those big ones are. From your rocking that amazing descendant in your arms to their driving you to your doctor’s appointment.

4. As you well know at this stage of your life: tempus fugit. Time flies. Which is (one reason) why your grandparenting matters. Right where you are. Right now.

5. No, you can’t whisk away an unbaptized grandchild and just do it yourself. And, no, it doesn’t help to escalate a baptism “discussion” into a battle. Sorry, Grandma or Grandpa, but it’s not your decision. Take comfort in what the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” teaches: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (No. 1257). God’s got it covered. For you. For your grandchild. Which isn’t to say you’re not called to play a part in all this.


Your homework

Of course that means keeping that intention in your prayers, but also showing what it means to be a good (happy! kind! generous! practicing!) Catholic. And having a “Catholic home.” One that displays sacramentals (religious artwork, crucifix, rosary and so on). Keeping in mind those items that can also be “plus” gifts. Giving a typical birthday present to your grandchild … plus one with a Catholic angle. Which, come to think of it, might include an angel. Those items as well as some age-appropriate books on and about Catholicism. All of which can spark questions. Baptized or not, those little ones are curious about your house, your gifts, your lifestyle. Relying on you to offer understandable answers, whatever age they may be.

So, yes, creating a Catholic home and being able to answer questions about your décor or why you do what you do (attending Sunday Mass, for instance) means … homework. For you. Why? Because to better share information, you have to better know that information. Not that your little one will immediately go wide-eyed, pop up and shout, “I once was lost but now am found!”

July 23, 2023 — World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly

The Church’s day of celebration falls on the Sunday closest to the July 26 feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents. The theme for 2023 is “His mercy is from age to age” from the Gospel of St. Luke.

Rather, throughout their lives, you may be who pops into their head when they hear the word “Catholic.” Not only do you put a personal, positive spin on Catholicism as they grow older and reach adulthood, but the seeds of Faith you plant now may take root, grow, and bear fruit after you’re gone. Long gone. And awaiting an eternal and infinite reunion.

Truly, your influence can continue beyond your time on earth and be nurtured by your prayers in heaven for them. After all, God’s ways aren’t just mysterious but marvelous, too.

How marvelous would it be that while you wait for your grandchildren to join you in heaven, you may spend a bit of eternity chatting with Joachim and Anne? Swapping grandparent stories. How lovely.

Bill Dodds

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.