I miss my paternal grandparents a lot, but more today in particular. I miss their tenderness, their loving affection, their simplicity, their laughs, but most important of all, their examples of a humble and strong faith in the Lord. I think I could go on and on trying to tell you how much they have impacted my life, but that would not be fair to bore you with so many details. However, for this reflection, I would like to share a small aspect of my grandmother’s simple faith and how she radiated the love of Christ for me.
She was an example, for me, of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. As you can tell from the candid picture taken by our family without her knowing, visiting the Blessed Mother was always the first thing she did when we took her to church. She would always ask us to take her to the Marian shrine (since she was blind and could not go by herself) so she can visit the Blessed Virgin. She would always spend a good amount of time there, in silence — on her knees, as she gave thanks and prayed for us. She prayed for her children, grandchildren, and family, that we would care for one another and that we would keep the faith. How do I know it? I was often “chosen” by my family, especially the older cousins (since I was the youngest), to guide and be with her at the Marian Shrine. When I was young, I always grinned at the opportunity but slowly began to appreciate the visits as they became a habit. Perhaps this was my grandmother’s gentle, habit-forming invitation that led me to a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. I began to appreciate her time in prayer when I realized why and who she was praying for. For me, this picture beautifully captured her prayerful spirit as it reminds and challenges me of what it means to be a Christian.
My grandmother’s simple faith taught me more about the faithful love of God than any seminary professors or theologians could explain in lectures. She impacted my life and showed me the beauty of faith because she spoke from the heart and dared to live it first. It was more than knowledge or information because it comes from a personal example of a committed heart that is based on the faithful, real, hopeful love for God. My grandmother never forced her faith upon anyone, but she was very sure to let her faith be enlivened in her everyday interactions with others. I remember that even though we were poor, she always tried to cut back from our weekly spending budget in order to hire a poor man who lived near our neighborhood to take us to church with his humble xích lô (Vietnamese-style front-bucket cycle). She tried to share what we had with him so he can take care of his little family, even though we ourselves had little. She always helped others as she could. My mother told me that when my father was in political imprisonment, my grandmother hid the little extra that she had and gave it to my mother so she can have some money to buy a bus or train ticket to visit my father or get him something nutritious. My mother was not a Christian at that time, but because of my grandmother’s constant care, she found a personal example of Christian love that enlightened her own conversion journey. It was a hard time, many of my cousins lived with my grandparents as their parents left the country to seek freedom as boat refugees. After my father was released, my parents struggled financially at the time due to the tough political atmosphere and little available opportunities; therefore, I had to live with my grandparents, too.
I will admit to you that I did not like my life when I realized that we were poor. I felt ashamed and envious of others who had more than me. Sometimes people like to romanticize poverty or idealize it, but it was never easy. Nevertheless, when we were home, my grandparents always made sure to make us feel that we are cared for. We ate simply, and grandmother would always eat little, leaving us grandchildren the good portions. She lived with very little, always sacrificed her goods for others. Yet, there was always a deep sense of joy radiated from her. When she spoke, we listened because we know she cared and that she deserved our respect. Grandmother taught me a very important lesson of always being grateful for what we have instead of letting ourselves be stuck behind the veil of self-pity, envy, and jealousy. My grandmother had a couple of nice dresses, for most of her clothes were old and often patched, but she always wore her best to church. She had two special traditional Vietnamese áo dài (long dresses) that she wore to Mass and special occasions. The one made out of red velvet material was very special and she wore it for High, Sunday Masses and weddings. Even though she was blind, she would always call me over to check and pat me down, made sure that I am tucked in and dressed properly for Mass. I did not like it at the time, but I now appreciate her habit-forming attentiveness as I now try to dress my best for Mass, especially for Sunday and high holy days. I remember my grandmother’s loving attention when I dress now, knowing that she still expects me to give my best to the Lord.
Little did I know that my own mother offered me up to Mother Mary’s protection, fearing for my life since I was born with malnutrition and with many infant illnesses. My grandmother loved to have me with her at the Marian shrine as she prayed for me when I was young, and with me when I was older. My parents, later in my life, showed me the picture taken at the favorite church that my grandmother loved to attend, Nhà Thờ Ba Chuông (nicknamed “The Three Bells Church”). This picture shows me that, from of young, she began to entrust, offer, and guide me to the Blessed Mother.
Little did I know that she offered and slowly taught me to fall in love with the saint that she loved the most. From of young, she began to hand on to me what was important to her — her faith. As you might have figured by now, my grandmother is very good with her patient, attentive, gentle habit-forming initiatives.
She taught us how to be good, how to be a caring person, how to pray and all the likes by practicing the good deeds herself and invite us to do the same. She taught me that the greatest and most important lessons in life are taught by real examples — not lectures — when the adult or teacher is genuinely and humbly putting into practice what they believe and want to pass on to the younger generations. Second, through gentle persistence and patience, one can form good habits in young children — even though they might resist and not understand them at first. The faith that I have today was given to me by her in that way. The way that I look at life and deal with people today was formed by her through those methods. Some might call me naive when I put too much trust in people, when I put too much hope in conversion of heart, or when I believe that that good can come out of something bad, but I learn all of them from my blind grandmother who was able to see people’s hidden goodness even though they might still be stuck in their present struggles. Even though she was blinded and was mistreated by others who took advantage of her disability and goodness, she believed in divine justice that God will deal with those people fairly as they deserve. We were taught to treat them with compassion and forgiveness and let God does His part. What was beautiful about my grandmother was that she was able to see more in a person and into life than many others around her because her spiritual senses are connected with God even though her physical ones were limited.
I guess this is my homage to my paternal grandmother. There are many more things to say, and those who listen to my homilies will hear me tell stories and mention a lot about her. Even though I might not always appreciate and strayed away from what she had taught me from time to time, I am grateful to have someone so real, simple, and foundational to come back to. My grandmother in her simple and profound faith and character taught me much about life, and for that, I am so grateful. I pray for her and my grandfather every day and I ask them to pray for me and the rest of our family at every prayer. I keep and made her prayer intentions my own as I pray that her children, grandchildren, and family would care for one another and that we would keep the faith.
I hear many people who tell me wonderful stories of their parents or grandparents’ faiths and virtuous lives. Yet, the stories always kind of ended short because it is often sad to see that the present and younger generations seldom continue what has been handed on to them, as to carry on the legacy of their loved ones. I pray that the ones whom we loved, their rich legacies of faith and moral characters would not be forgotten or ignored because we are too focused or busy with our own lives and agendas, but that we honor them by living out what they have taught us. We are who we are today because of the people who were with us! No matter how beautiful or challenging each of those stories can be, we can learn much from our roots and where we come from. I hope you can discover that sacred bond in your own lives as we live the faith that has been given to us, the human character formation endowed and handed on to us, and to enrich and deepen them with our own personal commitment and living of what has been shared by our loved ones.
So, I would like to end this reflection by asking you some questions:
- What are some of the beautiful and heartfelt traditions of faith that have been given to you by your loved ones?
- How are you and I continue to embrace and live out the rich spiritual legacies that have been handed on to us?
- How can we form good spiritual habits (through personal loving patience) for our future generations?