Looking back over the years of recent history since the end of the 19th century to the present day and the extremely dangerous crisis between Russia and Ukraine, indeed Russia and the world community, I am struck by how many of the world leaders, at the outset of and in the aftermath of the First World War, were elderly.
Indeed many of the generals of the various armies were of such an age they were unable until almost the end of the war to abandon the military tactics of the 19th century and face the harsh reality of mechanized warfare.
Would younger leaders, generals have done much better?
WWII says not and the current crisis likewise.
It is among other things an urgent matter of praying for right order between the generations, namely that the elderly share wisdom of experience but do not dominate, the young learn from the elders’ wisdom and use their own talents to make choices which will take us all deeper into global solidarity as one universal family of persons striving for peace.
Now it may at first blush appear somewhat a leap from the above to the challenge of being a grandparent, however the two are intimately connected, for it is within the heart of each individual family, each domestic-church, that we intercede for the entire human family, for world peace.
As Moses lifted up both his arms that the Chosen People might be victorious in battle, when we pray we must likewise lift up both arms: prayer and fasting, especially fasting from having things ‘my way!’
Pope Francis often speaks about the treasure of the elderly, the vital role of grandparents, what he sees as our having the strength to pass on a noble inheritance, asking everyone to: “…pray for our grandfathers and grandmothers….Let us ask for the grace to cherish, to listen to and venerate our elderly, our grandparents.” [Nov.19.13]
The challenge in being a grandparent is to lead by loving, prayerful example; to be wise, listen much, speak little as needed and when speaking to do so with compassionate understanding and strive, by grace, not to interfere for it is the parents who have the grace of state to parent the grandchildren.
Since I became a grandfather some ten years ago it has been/is an ongoing struggle and only, thanks in large measure to the struggles of one of my grandsons who is only seven years old, I am learning how what happens to him, how he reacts for example when his very loving father challenges the boy to be, more obedient, my emotional reaction – hence the extremely hard effort to keep my mouth shut! – is connected to wounds from my own childhood.
The challenge is to be still, allow the pain to unfold, listen to the Holy Spirit and with great love pray for my son and grandson.
My grandson really wants to go with his dad to see a special children’s movie, but my grandson struggles mightily, very common for a boy his age being so full of energy, to slow down, pay attention in the moment.
So often he appears to be, or actually is, disobedient: for example when asked to do some little chore playing with the new kitten is more interesting.
Thus the boy has so far not gotten to see the movie with his dad, so his dad the other day offered him another opportunity for the movie: “If you can go the whole week without disobeying.”
The boy immediately erupted into sobbing saying: “That’s too much! I can’t go a whole week!”
Immediately with great tenderness his dad encouraged him saying how he believed the boy could do it.
His dad then helped the boy settle down and later I noticed with great joy the two of them sitting outside, dad holding son with further comfort and reassurance.
Of course interiorly when my grandson started to sob my emotions spiked, my heart breaking and I wanted to say to my son something to the effect of lowering the bar, make the challenge easier, to hold my grandson and take away his pain.
Not by any strength of my will, only by grace did I sit still and say nothing, knowing somehow at some point the Holy Spirit would enlighten me.
Just now, praying for my grandson that he make it through the week and have the special day with his dad it struck me, or rather I was enlightened.
My own father, a member of the greatest generation, a WWII vet of the navy, only once took me to a movie, at about the same age my grandson is now, but my father never spoke with me on the tram ride to the theater, nor during the movie, nor did he get me a treat, nor speak with me on the way back.
Basically I was his cover, his excuse so he could go see the movie which was about a battle he was familiar with.
The only time he ever spoke with me about his war experiences, he was on a corvette and later on a destroyer doing convoy duty, was near the end of his life and it was pretty gruesome.
It was only then I realized this good man suffered ptsd and everything from my childhood fell into place and we were reconciled a few years before his death.
However some wounds are not yet completely healed, but that ‘movie’ wound is less raw thanks to the experience of seeing the struggle of my grandson, indeed the pain of the wound is part of my intercession that he make it through the week and gets to the movie with his dad.
Parents are challenged to raise children into mature persons who become faith-filled, loving, independent adults.
Grandparents are challenged to be a loving and wise presence.
In the family of nations older democracies are challenged to help the younger ones grow and mature as nations which sustain and protect life from conception to natural death, protect families and the fundamental rights and dignity of each person, assuring safety, adequate food, shelter, dignity of work.
Just as our personal historical wounds from growing up within a family must be brought to Jesus for healing – and the key to opening the treasury of healing is to forgive those who have hurt us – so we must pray that the historical wounds of peoples and nations be healed, thus as peoples and nations we must forgive those who have wounded our ancestors, our nation in the past.
Unless we engage in this healing forgiveness not only as individuals, families, but as peoples and nations Russia will continue expansionism like Hitler in the late 30’s; Syria will continue to slaughter her own people; oppression, starvation, labour camps will dominate North Korea; terrorists will be emboldened and eventually we will find ourselves confronted by countless small wars which will morph into a world war where weapons of mass destruction will be the norm.