"Big Four" Highlights


Granddad’s Works of Mercy

Satisfying the body, the heart and the soul

By Bill Dodds

Sometimes I think about my paternal grandmother and my mom as I begin fixing Sunday dinner. That’s when the kids and grandkids gather here at my house, the old family home. Preparing a meal for so many demands hard work, and I reflect on the fact that the corporal works of mercy of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty don’t always require us to step out the front door.

Way back when, my grandma would serve homemade cherry tarts to mark Washington’s birthday. Homemade hot cross buns for Easter. Homemade cinnamon rolls throughout the year. There were five of us grandkids bopping around but she had time—made time—for each of us. The food wasn’t like Mom’s, but it was good. And after dinner there would be a rousing game of hearts or canasta.

When my children were little, my late wife, Monica, and I would take them to my folks’ house just about every Sunday for dinner. Mom would serve pot roast or chicken or ham. (Sometimes Dad’s homemade pizza!) And always a good dessert. My siblings and I still speak of her “Miracle Whip chocolate cake” with a thick, crunchy chocolate frosting.

Dad would have a good time visiting with the grandkids and gently teasing them. Mom would read them a story or play some other board game with them.

Now I’m the one preparing the meal and planning the dessert, and I realize it takes some work! Yes, I love it when the family gets together, but I never really appreciated what Mom and Grandma did until I started doing it myself. Like the two of them, I get to spend time with my grandchildren. I enjoy hearing about what’s going on at school or what their friends are up to or how their dogs are doing. After dinner, we play cards, watch a movie on Netflix, or supervise homework. (Due Monday morning!)

I know, if they’re like most kids, they’ll carry memories of these meals with them for the rest of their lives. At times they may recall and reminisce about the games, the homework, the movies. Sometimes I wonder who’ll end up with the Dutch oven that belonged to their great-great-aunt Flora. It’s the one I use now.

But when I think back to Sunday dinner with Grandma . . . When my children speak of Sunday dinner with Mom and Dad . . . There’s a feeling, a tenderness that colors everything. A love was shared between the youngest and oldest generations. The food and drink satisfied the body, but it was that loving relationship that filled the heart and soul. We all need that love at every stage of our lives.

Simply put, the first and second corporal works of mercy can be a lot more than corporal.

It’s good to keep in mind that the love, concern, attention, and encouragement that a member of the oldest generation can give a member of the youngest aren’t limited to proximity. In this day and age, it’s not unusual for “long-distance grandparents” to develop and maintain a strong (and entertaining!) relationship with their grandkids through phone calls, texts, e-mail, Skype, and even playing online video games together.

In this day and age, when many of the youngest don’t have grandparents who are a part of their lives, other members of the oldest generation can help fill that void. In every parish, neighborhood, and community, there are young people who hunger and thirst for what an “unofficial” grandparent can give.

Local, long-distance, or beyond the bounds of family, there are ways that you and I can choose to focus on the youngest among us. We can put the first and second corporal works of mercy into action, directed toward them. What a blessing that can be for those dear young people. What a blessing it can be also for you and for me.


Bill Dodds and his late wife, Monica, founded the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, an international Catholic organization that promotes care for family caregivers. His novels include Mildred Nudge: A Widower’s Tale and, for children, My Great-grandfather Turns 12 Today.