We believe that no suffering, united to Christ’s suffering on the Cross, is in vain. Suffering is a crossroads: it can carve out a new depth in our soul (we see this in others’ eyes) or it can make us bitter. Christ on the Cross shows us the way—namely, to give our suffering to our Lord. With Christ, we say, “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
Does it ever strike you that we begin life with the whole “package?” In our Baptism (for most of us as infants), we become beloved children of God. Easter reminds us of this. As Saint Paul remarks, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones…” (Colossians 3:12). We are indeed God’s chosen ones. Easter calls each one of us to our true identity as the chosen of God.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Saint Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh” that he prayed three times God would take away, but our Lord did not. We don’t know what Saint Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but I’m glad we don’t, because each of us has our own thorn, to remind us along with Saint Paul that “God’s grace is sufficient for us.”
We are called to forgiveness and especially, I would say, to the most difficult task of forgiving yourself. Hopefully, forgiveness becomes for us not just an action we do now and then, but a virtue that is the habitual state in which we forgive almost constantly. When we forgive ourselves and others, we activate God’s love in our hearts.
There’s an interesting phrase: “Moral integration.” It means we need to have integrity in our moral life. We need to accommodate to God and not vice versa. That’s not easy, because all of us struggle with our ego and with pride a good bit, but only God is meant to be the Director of our lives.
The secret of the spiritual life is to become awake. Evil wants to keep us asleep.
Christian growth requires constant effort. Every day, I’m either growing closer to God or drifting farther away. I never just stand still. As the saying goes, “It’s all about showing up!”
The section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on prayer is incredible. We’re told that the most common temptation in prayer is our lack of faith, which is expressed through our actual preferences (CCC #2732). A thousand labors or cares are “preferred” over prayer. Think about that!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives three interesting facts on prayer:
- It is always possible to pray. (CCC #2743)
- Prayer is a vital necessity. If we don’t let the Holy Spirit lead us, we will fall back into the slavery of sin. (CCC #2744)
- Prayer and Christian life are inseparable. (CCC #2745)
It is good to be aware of God’s presence all throughout the day. Just a peaceful, frequent repetition of the Name “Jesus” helps us to do this.
For most of us, loneliness is part of old age. But loneliness can lead to a deeper encounter with God. We can bring our loneliness to God and pray “from” there. Bring those prayers to Christ in His agony in the garden—He drank the cup of loneliness most deeply there.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote to her sister Céline: “It seems to me God has no need of years to carry out His work of love in a soul. A ray from His heart can in one instant make His flower bloom for eternity.” Sometimes as we age, we can grieve over having wasted our lives. These words from Saint Thérèse are an incredible consolation for that grief.
Eternity is not boring. When all our questions are answered, and all our needs are satisfied, we no longer are chasing after anything, and we see God face to face. Boredom will not be a problem.
We can sometimes experience sadness over the fact that everything passes and that the greater part of our lives is over. But it is this rapidly fleeting time that brings us to Heaven. If time moved more slowly, the waiting time would be much longer. Passing time brings us to “the better country.”
As the author Fr. Stinissen put it, “Would we prefer the prelude to the symphony?” I do not need to grieve over my past. Through the sacramental life of the Church, especially Confession and Holy Communion, I have access to my past, and I can rewrite it. I can see the place it has in my life. Saint John of the Cross says, “Wounds caused by sin can become wounds of love.”
Saint Paul says, “I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ (Philippians 3:12c). That means I have been grasped by God and I am His. What remains for me is to accept that and integrate it into how I think and act and live. Again, as the spiritual author Fr. Stinissen says, “Once I truly believe I have been grasped by God, I am filled with a new security and peace and joy. My prayer now comes to rest in being grasped by God. So if I’m distracted in prayer, I belong to God anyway. I just return my thoughts to Him. To be grasped by God is to be grasped by joy” (Stinissen 2018, 200).
As we age, it’s important to be grateful for all that we are still able to do, even if it takes us longer to do it!
As Saint John Paul II said, “…at our age it is natural to revisit the past in order to attempt a sort of assessment. This retrospective gaze makes possible a more serene and objective evaluation of persons and situations we have met along the way” (Letter to the Elderly, #2). A hopeful thought. We can visit our past, not for recriminations and regrets, but rather for a new, peaceful understanding of days gone by.
Aging brings with it the gift of being able to observe things more intently, and see much that we missed when we were rushing around.
Saint Jerome tells us the benefits of old age include “a quieting of the passion, an increase in wisdom, and more mature counsels.” Time is a great teacher.
Saint John Paul II, speaking on the place of difficulties in our lives, said: “Struggles and sorrows are part of everyone’s life, but by God’s grace they contribute to our growth and to the forging of our character.” At the time, our struggles are difficult indeed. But much like the moth in the cocoon that becomes stronger as he flaps his wings, so God can use the struggles we encounter to give us a depth and beauty we would not have had without them.
As we age, our memory isn’t as good as it was, but our “forgetter” is far better. ?
Be on guard for regrets and recriminations. Let them go, and enjoy the good memories.
Aging is all about attitude; not so much what’s happened in my life, but what’s my attitude toward it.
Saint John Paul II observed: “The passage of time helps us see our experiences in a clearer light, and softens their painful side.” We can re-visit our past and, in a sense, “change it,” because now we can see how God used everything to our ultimate advantage. (See Romans 8:28.)
If you’re homebound, be an “encourager.” Write a letter to someone who has just done something good or to someone who needs cheering up.
Any new hobbies or interests that you’d like to take up? A friend of mine, at age 75, began making rugs. They’re beautiful.
How about a “telephone apostolate?” Call people you know, often, and ask how they are, and share something you’ve read or heard. Opportunities to do this are always there.
There’s a freedom in growing old, isn’t there? And a joy. We can just “live.” Having lived much of life we know who we are and we are at peace with that.
Think of it—at the end of our lives, we’ll close our eyes, and then open them to look on the face of Jesus Christ!
Robert Browning wrote a beautiful poem. It goes this way:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
Saint John Paul II, speaking to the elderly, said, “..the gift of life, for all the effort and pain it involves, is too beautiful and precious for us ever to grow tired of it…I wish simply to express my spiritual closeness to you as someone who, with the passing of the years, has come to a deeper personal understanding of this phase of life and consequently feels a need for closer contact with other people of his own age, so that we can reflect together on the things we have in common” (Letter to the Elderly, #1).
True confession: I find older people most interesting, because they’ve lived life. They have a story.
Available from Amazon as an eBook or paperback!