Personal Reflection – Ron and Mavis Pirola
Sydney, Australia – 11 May 2021
Ron: Good morning, or should we say, good afternoon or good evening. Here in Sydney, it’s Wednesday at 4.30 in the morning. And it’s a joy to be with you.
Mavis: Next Sunday, by God’s grace, is the 62nd anniversary of our wedding day. On that day, a beautiful blessing was bestowed on us: ‘May you live to see your children and your childrens’ children’. Many years later, that blessing has been fulfilled in four children and eight grandchildren and, recently, two great grandchildren.
As we look back over our journey, we think that grandparenting is best appreciated in the context of love given and love received – in reciprocal giving and receiving, in the bringing of special gifts to each others’ lives and in the resulting closeness to which the Holy Father is calling us.
Ron: As grandparents we are ‘significant other adults’ in the lives of our grandchildren. Psychologists use this term, significant other adults, when talking about passing on values to children. In the pressured relationships of small nuclear families, it is of great importance that parents have other relatable adults who share common values. By our presence and witness, we grandparents can fulfil that role very naturally.
It starts early in their lives as we help pass on simple skills like how to tie shoe laces, to cook, or to read. These are very precious opportunities to reflect to the child that he or she is loved. I remember once helping one granddaughter to plant a tomato seed. Over the next few months it grew into a strong young plant and finally it produced its own tomatoes. Together we shared in a lesson in nature, but the biggest lesson we both she and I learned came through the bonding experience of our love for each other.
Mavis: Similarly, the sharing of our faith can be passed on in simple and natural ways like when we say, “Thank you Lord for this beautiful sunset”. We remember once exploring the wonder of a coloured beetle in our garden and discussing how wonderful God is to provide us with such beauty. And in verbalising our thanks to the Lord, we also grow in our own faith and awareness of our Creator.
Ron: As the years roll on, grandparents also pass on the deeper lessons of life. Sadly, we can’t protect our grandchildren from the inevitability of disappointments and failures in the journey of life but we can be with them at those times, letting them know that we too have had hurts and failures along the way. It helps them to see their own setbacks in perspective and it gives us a sense of purpose just from knowing that we can be with them at those times.
Mavis: Grandparents can also be a ‘safety valve’ for the tensions in a family. One evening we were at home and one of our teenage granddaughters phoned. “Nonna, can I come to your place for the night?”. “Of course, you can,” I said, wondering what in heavens name was going on. A minute later, her mother rang and explained that there had been a row in the family and her daughter was angry and wanted to leave home.
We had no idea how we were going to handle this but when she arrived, we simply had a meal together and gradually she talked out her upset and started to relax and to see things in perspective. The next day she went home a little wiser and a lot happier. We had simply been the safety valve that allowed her to ‘let off steam’ in a safe environment.
Ron: One of the biggest challenges for a child growing towards adulthood is in the area of sexuality – in their sexual identity and in the value of reserving sexual activity until they can commit themselves to a permanent married relationship. In a world of so-called ‘free sex’, the Church’s teaching can seem outdated and irrelevant.
Grandparents are in a unique position to be a clear sign that a long lasting and loving relationship is not only an achievable goal but a highly desirable one.
When our grandchildren were little we used to tell them a wonderful secret – that Mavis is my Princess and I am her Prince Charming. They used to roll their eyes, joke about it and demand to see our castle and white horse. But they loved it. And they still like to tease us and ask me about my Princess. And we benefit because it reminds us to work on keeping romance alive in our marriage.
Mavis: And in the weird world of gender fluidity, we can find ways to affirm them in their masculinity or in their femininity, for example through messages on birthday cards and compliments in the course of conversation. If they receive that appreciation from us who love them, they will be more confident in themselves as young men and women.
Needless to say, none of this is easy. In our secular society our grandchildren are being bombarded with values with which we disagree. What we try to do is to gently and clearly share our life and faith values while also making sure that they know that we are keen to listen in a non-judgemental way to what is happening in their lives and, above all, that we will always be there for them.
Ron: Nowhere is our presence and witness as grandparents more important than in passing on the faith. More often, this witness is expressed through small family rituals such as grace before meals, celebrating patron saint feast days and offering to pray for their special concerns. This is particularly obvious at milestone faith events such as the first reception of the sacraments of initiation.
For example, the presence of older people at baptisms is a physical reminder that the community into which the new child is being welcomed stretches back through the ages. At the recent baptism of our great grandchild, Theresa, there were four generations present as well as extended family. Their physical presence added meaning to the words of the old Eucharistic prayer ‘from age to age, you gather a people to yourself’.
And it helps us to appreciate the Communion of Saints. To appreciate such a spiritual communion we need experiences of human community such as the family and the parish.
Mavis: Much of what we are sharing applies to the invaluable role in family life of all the elderly, whether they be single or married or widowed. A friend of ours is widowed but she carries the love of her husband George with her and the impact of this helps her to be an evangelising presence in her family. Two of our three daughters are not married and they contribute enormously, each in their own distinct way, to the faith practice in our family. They are like surrogate mothers to their nephews and nieces, remembering their birthdays and feast days and providing special outings for them and sharing their faith with them.
Ron: In conclusion, the interplay of the young and the elderly is an undeveloped gift of mutual benefit and we pray that it may be more widely promoted through the coming World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly.
Mavis: Thank you for listening and we wish you every blessing.
This reflection was written and shared by Ron and Mavis Pirola, at the May 2021 Grandparents’ Faith Café