Grandparents

The feast of SS Joachim and Anne, names traditionally assigned to the parents of Mary, mother of our Lord, reminds us that Jesus was a member of a family. His looks, his traits, his temperament, all were influenced by his genetic inheritance and the experience of belonging to that particular Jewish family. As with all families, his inheritance must have been a mixture of good and bad.

That means that Jesus was not necessarily ‘perfect’ by human standards: he was not necessarily the most handsome man who ever lived (could we even agree on what constitutes handsome?), the most intelligent, the most eloquent, the most gifted. His smile might have been crooked, his nose bent; he might have had difficulty learning Hebrew, an irritating way of clearing his throat before speaking, a thousand and one little habits we might think of as imperfections. And yet, as Son of God, he was perfect, perfect in all the ways that matter to God: in love, fidelity and obedience. These too he must have learned from his family, for he did not come into the world fully-formed, so to say. He came as a baby, with all a baby’s fragility and vulnerability. He had to learn how to be a man, and his first teachers were his family.

The man who showed such courage and determination in the face of opposition, such compassion and wisdom in his teaching; who was easy in the presence of women and small children and all those on the margins of society; who possessed in abundance the gift of friendship, was a grandson as well as son. What precisely he owed to Joachim and Anne we cannot say for certain, but today we should pray with gratitude for all grandparents, for they pass on to their grandchildren more than they know.

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Exhaustion Point

Yesterday we finally admitted what had been staring us in the face for the past few weeks: we had reached, not exhaustion point exactly, but somewhere on the road to exhaustion where the warning signs were plain to see. So, instead of doing all the things we thought we should (unpacking, answering correspondence, getting the monastery accounts up to date, scything down the savannah that has sprung up overnight in the garden, sorting out the 1001 things that have to be sorted), still less all the things other people thought we should do (complete as appropriate), we decided to do very little.

The monastic version of very little takes quite a lot of time: prayer and reading, Mass at Belmont, which was beautifully celebrated, with some fine singing from the boys and girls of St Richard’s School, and a community meal (the first properly cooked one for a few days), but it was not taxing in the way that working against the clock is taxing; nor was the tiredness beyond our control. We had not, in fact, reached exhaustion point.

There are many people who have reached, or even gone beyond, exhaustion point. Work, the pressure of caring for others — children, elderly parents, perhaps a husband or wife with severe disabilities — trying to struggle by on too little money or in the face of hostility and bullying: all these can bring people to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. For us, the solution to our temporary exhaustion was easy: we just switched off for the day. For others, it is not so easy; and sadly, it is often the people who most need help who are least able to ask for it or least likely to receive help if they do.

One of the most sobering statistics I have read for a long while concerns the number of children in the U.K. who are the principal carers for their parents. At an age when most of us were probably leaving our bedrooms in a mess and flouncing out of the house ‘at all hours’, these young people are cooking, cleaning, tending to their parents in ways that properly belong to adults. There are systems in place that are supposed to pinpoint children at risk, but we all know that much goes on behind the walls of our houses that is hidden from view. And in countries not so blessed with security and material wealth as our own, children face even worse problems.

Perhaps today, if we are beginning the working week feeling a little tired and jaded, we could spare a thought and a prayer for those who are truly exhausted; for the children coping with adult challenges; for all who are weary and see no hope of an end to their weariness.

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