Passing their Catholicism onto younger generations starts with grandparents being generous with time and spirit
The births of Adam and Anna Drost’s six grandchildren filled the couple with deep love and a desire to pass on their Catholic faith.
Patiently, they waited to start the “passing” — not wanting to pressure their children about baptism while they were dealing with other issues.
“It was a burning in my heart, but I didn’t want to alienate my children from me,” Anna said. “I just kept going to church and praying about it.”
In answer to the couple’s prayers, all six grandchildren were baptized in the Church. The Drosts, who live in Dunwoody, Georgia, continue to pray for their grandchildren, ages 2 to 11, and share their Catholic faith with them through their own example, both in the mysteries of faith and ordinary moments of life.
Many Catholic grandparents, whose children for whatever reason have not yet accepted the inheritance of faith they hope to give, are sensing a need to share this gift with the next generation — their grandchildren — who might not learn about the Faith from another source.
With their prayer, example and other unique qualities, grandparents often hold a position of loving influence with their grandchildren.
Finding the tools to help
It’s not always clear to grandparents when and how to pass on the Faith. To help with the tools and support, as well as ways to grow in personal faith, an international grandparents organization called the Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) is encouraging formation of parish support chapters and providing resources to individual grandparents. In addition, dioceses are creating ministries for grandparents. Many other resources are also available.
The last several generations of youth have been catechized differently than in previous years, and now young adults range in their faith from not having been baptized to practicing members, said Michael La Corte, U.S. director of CGA, based in Delray Beach, Florida. Launched in Ireland 10 years ago, CGA has been working in the United States for two years to support grandparents individually and through parish chapters. Currently a private association of the faithful, it is hoping to become a public association, at which point its work becomes the mission of the Church, La Corte said.
There will be a break in the generational link unless grandparents help, said Crystal Crocker, interim director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which recently launched its ministry for grandparents. The ministry offers resources for grandparents and for establishing parish groups.
“Young children who do not know and love Jesus are growing into young adults who do not know and love Jesus,” she said.
But grandparents are in a good position to help with this problem, said Adam Drost, who with his wife helped establish a CGA chapter at their parish, St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta.
It’s important to reach children when they’re very young, he said. “Simple, meaningful things make an imprint on a child,” he said. “We may not see the fruits of those labors, but hopefully we can make the right imprint on the children so they can carry it into their futures.”
Power of prayer
Grandparenting is a vocation, but there is no failing grade, only the desire to try, La Corte said.
“When you say to grandparents that the mission is to help grandparents pass on the Faith and keep prayer at the heart of family life, it’s immediately understood and it immediately addresses a problem that they have.”
Though they may not know how to tackle the problem, grandparents aren’t alone; their vocation is from Christ.
“In this Year of Mercy, the image of the Divine Mercy is always very important for all of us — particularly for grandparents,” said Capuchin Father Michael Ramos, spiritual adviser of the CGA chapter and associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in New Paltz, New York. “We’re trying to bring people back to the Faith or ensure that young people have faith: This is the work of Jesus. We have to work. We have to pray that we’re cooperating with Jesus and realize it’s not all about us.”
Grandparents are natural evangelizers and represent to grandchildren calmness, tenderness, knowledge and wisdom. They are master storytellers and teach humility when they share their experiences, Crocker said.
Prayer is essential for grandparents’ mission, not only for their family but to strengthen their own relationship with Christ, Crocker said.
Learning more about the Faith through Scripture, the Catechism and other sources is also good preparation, said Brandon Vogt, author of “Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church” (Numinous Books, $17).
Grandparents who are unable to share the Faith with their grandchildren because of distance or because their children don’t allow it can always pray for them directly and also that God will bring someone into their grandchildren’s lives who can reach them, he said.
“No matter what your situation is, no matter how broken the relationship is or how tricky it is to navigate, everybody can at least do this: Everybody can pray, fast and sacrifice for the sake of their family members,” Vogt said.
Setting an example
Along with prayer, grandchildren need to see grandparents living their faith rather than to be catechized through lectures, La Corte said.
“Allow the child to understand, to see them when they come to their home, to see the crucifix, see a statue of Mary or pictures on the wall, meal grace, evening prayer, go to Mass with us even though you don’t usually.”
One way to witness by example is by offering to help the parents.
Kathleen Mironchik and Donna Dietz, co-coordinators of the CGA chapter at St. Joseph’s in New Paltz provide child care for some of their grandchildren, which gives them time alone with them. Especially beneficial for evangelization are the car rides they share.
“We can sing and we can pray,” Mironchik said. “And we show them that God is everywhere. These are little seeds of faith for them, even if it’s just bringing them to church and letting them see the stained-glass windows and explaining what it’s all about.”
Car rides are an opportunity to share materials about the Faith and the Mass, said Crocker, who also recommended making short pilgrimages to local churches, cathedrals or other religious sites.
“What you are doing is holding out an invitation to the child or grandchild to experience all the gifts that God has for them in the Church,” Vogt said.
Nonreligious activities such as spending time in nature, doing works of mercy together, cooking and community events also offer “Godlike moments.” Storytelling is another fun activity.
“I think grandparents are in a position as storytellers to teach so much to grandchildren,” Anna Drost said. “They love the stories.”
Grandparents should not think they are “done” since they have already raised their own kids, nor should they be timid about passing on the Faith.
“I encourage parents to take seriously the stakes of this particular realm: our child’s or our grandchild’s eternal relationship with God,” Vogt said. “Making sure that’s right is worth a few minutes of awkwardness or the risk of having a bad conversation here or there. I think some grandparents need to take a step out of the boat more than they need to back off.”
Joy puts the Faith in a good light for grandchildren, Vogt said.
“All you can do is live your faith and lead by example, and hopefully they’re watching,” Anna Drost said. “You can’t preach it. If you preach, you might pull them away even further. It will get caught if they see something special about you.”