Reflections from the Grandparents’ Faith Café – Fr Bryan Shortall OFM Cap

The Catholic Grandparents’ Faith Café met virtually via Zoom on Tuesday 15 January. Grandparents and friends from across the world joined us to connect with each other and to listen to the reflections. 

Fr Bryan Shortall, OFM Cap, Parish Priest of Priorswood Parish in the Archdiocese of Dubin, was the guest speaker at this month’s Faith Café and he spoke on the theme of ‘sending positive vibes’ which is the title of his most recent book. You can read his address below: 

My Faith Story is completely caught up my relationship with my grandparents, especially my maternal grandparents, and in particular my mother’s mother, who we called Nana. She was born weeks before Padraig Piaras and the other leaders of the Easter Rising entered the GPO in 1916.

Nana, (died 1991) Grandpop (died 1994) Granny Greta, (died 1992) and Grandad (died 1977) grew up in the infancy of the state during the 1920s, and 30s and it was a different Ireland to the place we have now, and a different church to the Church we have now.

They coped with a lot of hardship, but there was a real sense of meitheal and solidarity between families and neighbours when our grandparents were growing up and starting their families. A huge amount of what they did revolved around the local parish and the church. Devotions, sodalities, the Legion of Mary, now in its centenary year this year. By and large they were a generous and kind people who did not shut the door on others.

The second half of the 20th century saw monumental change, and especially in Ireland. In 1962, RTE began broadcasting on television, and despite Dev’s fears, Gay Byrne began the Late Late Show, now in its 59thseason. Pope John XXIII called his Council and my grandparents, your parents, got used to going to Mass in the vernacular for example. They had to contend with decimalisation instead of pounds, shillings, and pence.

The clergy were blessed and lucky to have a great cohort of supportive laity though some perhaps didn’t appreciate this and took it for granted. Sadly, there were clergy and religious who didn’t live as men and women of the gospel and to this day there is a blight on the story of religion in Ireland. While this is not a conversation for tonight, we know the report of the Commission into the Mother and Baby Homes will prove terribly painful for many people, indeed especially for those directly affected.

Faith, prayer, Church, Mass was all very much part of the language of my life growing up going between my home and my grandparent’s houses. We were not brainwashed but the church was part of my story and my formation to some extent. Thanks to Vat II and the social teaching of Pope Paul and Pope John Paul II in particular, and the response of Archbishop Ryan in Dublin for example, the church was expanding and building churches and schools with the help of the people via SHARE.

If the Council didn’t shake the Church up over time, the earthquake happened when Paul VI died. Paul had an alarm clock which kept good time from the time he got it in Poland when he was a papal diplomat in the 1940’s. Author Peter Hebblethwaite wrote that when Paul died, the Polish alarm clock suddenly went off. Cardinal Albino Luciani who had been elected pope to succeed Paul in August 1978 died suddenly. The Archbishop of Krakow, 58-year-old Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope on October 16th, 1978. The papacy which had been emerging from behind the walls of the Vatican since Pope John, and Pope Paul, burst out from St. Peter’s Square. In the first year of the pontificate, John Paul II travelled to Mexico, Poland, Ireland, and the United States of America. Everybody was talking about John Paul II

As the time went on, perhaps it became more difficult – especially as you saw how flagrantly some clergy did not live up to their gospel calling – which would be expected of men of God. Yet, my grandparents and parents, the domestic church, laid a foundation from the kitchen table which helped people like me to see the bigger picture. And that bigger picture is that the church is belongs to Christ. And it is made up of ‘God’s holy and faithful people’’ in the words of Pope Francis. Yet, Jesus never said it was going to be easy, but he promised to be with his church; c.f. Matt 28 (“I am with you always…”) and John 16:33 (“Simon, Satan has got his wish to sift you all like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, and when you have recovered, you must strengthen your brothers. In the world you will have troubles, but have courage, I have conquered the world.”) We need to be reminded of this and through this, of the people who have kept the faith despite the huge challenges and the scandals.

Our grandparents made us what we are. It may sound like a cliché, but we stand on the shoulders of giants. Not just from a faith point of view but because they are the engine room of the family, the heartbeat of the home where the faith was transmitted. We felt safe when they were around.

Pope Benedict XVI says that ‘grandparents are a source of enrichment for families, for the church, and for society’ in his beautiful 2008 prayer. Pope Francis says Grandparents are ‘the living memory of the family.’ He often refers to grandmothers and grandfathers especially as he remembers his own grandparents. Never was the vocation of grandparents more necessary than today, you are a powerful image of God in our world and in the heart of the family for 2021.

You are a source of strength for the young people when they are struggling because you have life’s experience. You have the wisdom of years and perhaps are more qualified to encourage the kids today. Indeed, during the height of the gangland violence in Dublin city in the last few years, which we pray for an end to soon, Archbishop Martin walked with many grandparents of the north inner-city community and he appealed to those engaged in violence to ‘listen to their grandmothers. ‘

Covid 19 is crucifying our society and is cocooning our grandparents in these days. Seeing pictures on television and on our social media of nana’s and granddads meeting their grandchildren and great grandchildren from inside the living room windows is hard to watch. God grant that soon; our grandparents can hold us again and we can all hold each other with no fear.

We need to focus on the positives. The Vaccines are being rolled out and each day while we hear the grim news of more infections, we are hearing too of the vaccinations. So, the end is in sight and the Cavalry is on the hills.

Lord bless the healing hands of our nursing, medical, and surgical staff. Bless the immunologists, virologists, and scientists who have developed these vaccines. God speed the effort to make us all well. May God bless our grandparents through Louis and Zelie Martin and Joachim and Anne. Amen.


This talk was delivered by Father Bryan Shortfall OFM Cap on 12 January 2020.