Grandparents Are Among God’s Choicest Gifts

The closer we get to Christmas, the more I seem to think about my grandmothers. While I hardly have any recollection, sadly, of my grandfathers, I savor vivid, tender, and grateful memories of my two grandmothers, whom I lovingly called “Nonnie Lu”—Lucille Radcliffe—and “Nonnie Martie”—Martha Dolan. These two wonderful women often show up in my warm Christmas dreams from a blessed childhood, as I fondly recall their laughter, their hugs, their visits, their gifts, their baking, their hospitality, their stories, and their decorations.

So, with Christmas now near, I want to say thanks to all our grandparents. This is an appropriate season to do that, since you grandmas and grandpas are among God’s choicest gifts to us. We probably think of you at Christmas because this holy day is all about love, joy, peace, and goodness—and that’s what you grandparents bring us.

In 1973, I had the opportunity as a seminarian to spend two weeks traveling in Russia. It was a very enlightening and somber journey. Keep in mind that the communists still had iron-fisted control. Because we were seminarians, we were given permission to visit one of the few Orthodox monasteries tolerated by the atheistic regime. There we had a fascinating conversation with the monks, and asked them how—since public worship and any organized religious instruction were outlawed—faith was being passed on to children. The monks looked at us somewhat flabbergasted. “What do you mean? The faith is passed on to children here the same way it is handed on anywhere: by grandparents! Don’t you depend on your grandparents to teach their grandchildren the faith in America?”

How true! Yes, we do. We’d be in a big mess without our grandparents, because they very often have a tremendous impact on the spiritual and moral development of their grandchildren. How often it is that our grandparents teach their grandkids their prayers, Bible stories, the lives of the saints, the rudiments of the faith! How often is it that our grandparents take their grandchildren to Sunday Mass, or sacrifice to see that they receive a Catholic education? And how often do grandma and grandpa mirror the unconditional love of God to their grandkids! It was Nonnie Martie and Nonnie Lu who often took me to church for visits, to light a candle, to say my prayers, to recite the Rosary.

Not only do we lovingly think of our grandparents (and other relatives and extended family) at this happy time of the year, but so does the Church. During Advent, and throughout Christmas, we lovingly and often think of Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus; of Joachim and Anne, the parents of Our Lady; and Jacob, the father of St. Joseph (we do not know the name of Joseph’s mother), all grandparents of Jesus. The Liturgy of the Word at Mass tells us about Elizabeth and Zechariah, and their son, John (the Baptist), all relatives of Our Lord.

And then we have the annual reading of the genealogy (the family tree) of Jesus, from the Gospel of St. Matthew or St. Luke. Most of us priests and deacons dread it, since we butcher the names, but the impact of the genealogy is significant. Jesus had a family, he had relatives, he came from the line of David! And what a family He had! There were kings and slaves, there were virgins and prostitutes, there were peacemakers and warriors, there were law officers and jailbirds, there were deeply pious ancestors, and also pagans. You could almost call the family of our Savior dysfunctional!

I don’t know about you, but that sounds a bit like my own family! I once began some research into my roots, but soon stopped when it became embarrassing! We’ve got alcoholism, depression, unemployment, divorce, domestic violence, hunger, convicts, homelessness, cancer, tragic deaths, … and we’ve got tons and tons of love, grit, hope, and warmth. I feel better knowing that Jesus came from the same kind of family… like all the rest of us!

And the memory that endures in my heart is not the sorrow, the sickness, or the struggle that all of our families endure, but the warm love of Nonnie Lu and Nonnie Martie. They remain a big part of my Christmas to this day; they remain a significant part of my life; I pray they will be part of my eternity.

Thank you, Grandmas and Grandpas! Thank God for our families! A blessed Christmas to all!