Last week, I spent a few days in New Jersey with about 65 catechetical leaders, reflecting on the 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness. Among the many wonderful people I was privileged to spend time with was Ron Pihokker, the Director of the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. In particular, I was struck by how excited Ron is about the prospect of becoming a grandfather in August! He is SO looking forward to it and he will make a wonderful grandparent!
That got me to thinking about the role that grandparents play in our lives, especially as models of kindness, a Fruit of the Holy Spirit that is often misunderstood as a type of neutral niceness or smiling indifference. Kindness is not neutral. Kindness is shown through actions. When we refer to someone as being kind, it is usually in response to a gesture or action. To be kind is to be prone to performing acts that are intrinsically good. This is the real meaning of the word benign which is the direct opposite of the word malignant meaning something that is designed to actively destroy. For some reason, however, the word benign, has come to basically mean neutral. While it’s good news to hear the word benign in a medical diagnosis, in most cases, the tissue is removed anyway because, while it is not harming, it is not doing any good either. The true meaning of the word benign is the characteristic of actively doing good, not just being neutral.
Grandparents are not neutral. They can’t wait to be with their grandchildren so that they can actively spoil them with goodness and then send them on their way. I was told many years ago that grandparents are the closest thing we have on this earth to an experience of God. No doubt, it is this unlimited generosity and kindness that grandparents show – as they themselves grow closer to the Divine Image – that speaks to us of the presence of God, whom, the Church teaches, is “absolute benignity.” (Council of Trent) In other words, it is God’s very nature to heap blessings on his children – a characteristic that is shown time and again throughout Scripture, culminating in the blessing of the Resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Under the influence of the Risen Christ, we are compelled to do the same for others, actively and generously spreading kindness – benignity – and not malignancy.
Grandparenting is one step along the way to becoming the Imago Dei – the image of God – that we are all called to become.