Without Our Ancestors, We’re Nobody

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

I recently saw a “Dennis The Menace” cartoon that has Dennis sitting next to his grandfather looking at a photo album, and observing wisely: “Ancestors are important . . . Without them, we’re nobody.”

Dennis has a point. So much of who we are and what we have is defined by our ancestors – parents, grandparents and even beyond that. And if it’s true in a general sense, it’s equally true for our identity as Catholics. All of the good things we have as Catholics have been handed down to us by those who have gone before us. That’s certainly part of my life’s story.

One of my prized personal possessions is a large, leather-bound Bible that belonged to my Great Grandfather, also Thomas Tobin, who lived from 1844-1923. I’m pleased to note that the Bible was well-used. And an obituary about my Grandfather, Michael Tobin, says that he was a “member of St. Agnes Catholic Church as well as the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of St. George.” And from my parents I have a good number of Catholic keepsakes, including the little candle my Dad carried for his First Holy Communion.

I’m so grateful to my parents and grandparents! How different my life would be, how impoverished, if my ancestors hadn’t practiced the faith and handed it down to their family.

As a Catholic community we can say the same. All that we possess and cherish today – our churches and schools, our traditions and devotions, our endowments and organizations – we enjoy because our ancestors were strong and determined in their faith. They were extraordinarily generous. And they proudly transmitted the faith to their children.

It’s really sad that so many young people today are turning their backs on their spiritual heritage and abandoning the “faith of their fathers.” How many times have parents and grandparents shared with me, often with tears, how heartbroken they are that their children and grandchildren have left the Church and no longer practice the faith. And “heartbroken” is not too strong a word.

Dennis the Menace said, “Without our ancestors, we’re nobody.” And I would add, if we abandon the faith of our parents, we dishonor them and diminish ourselves.

Something to think about: Do you have some “ancestors,” family members, who were models of faith for you, who inspired your practice of the faith?