At the end of July, we will celebrate the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, which the Holy Father established as a reminder ‘that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young’.

Looking back on my life, when I dare myself to do so, I cannot help but wonder how I ever became a Catholic, a priest, and a missionary. I try very hard to piece things together and connect various encounters in order to trace a path from childhood to where I am today.

Faith is not always passed on in a straightforward way

Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?), I cannot quite work it all out, and always come to the conclusion that life, faith, and God are all immersed in mystery, a wonderful enigma of encounters and experience, both human and divine. Where do I start?

My parents would have identified themselves as ‘C of E’, and though they modelled and passed onto me many fundamental Christian values, they hardly ever darkened the doors of a church.

Our Anglican school chaplain, a fiery Welshman with an equally hot temper, was an important and positive influence on the development of my faith. His message was clear: to follow Jesus is to tread a straight but long, hard, and rocky path through life!

Preaching through actions (and sometimes words)

Of all those who, in different ways, helped me along this path – or in retrospect those the Lord sent to help me – it was my godmother who, in my late teenage years, when life was particularly difficult, introduced me to the Risen Christ. She was a cradle Catholic, with a very deep and lively faith, who by example lived and communicated the love of Christ.

The words attributed to St Francis describes the way in which she influenced me: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.’

One of the most common requests I receive is from parents and grandparents asking me to pray that their children and grandchildren ‘would return to the Church’; ‘come back to the sacraments’; ‘return to the Faith’. Understandably, for many parents and grandparents, this situation can be distressing and discouraging.

This is where I return to the mystery of life bathed in the presence of God. The path we have chosen as missionary disciples is to witness, in actions and sometimes words, to the truth we hold deep within us: that God has revealed to us his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ our Lord.

When I think of my Godmother, I am reminded  that we must not underestimate the power of our witness, in deed more than in word, on those we encounter, especially those nearest and dearest to us.

Let us all hold firm to this, trust in the Lord, remain faithful and joyful in our faith, and leave the rest to God; who, shrouded in mystery, will never stop loving us, our children and our grandchildren.

Fr Anthony Chantry