As we get older, we have a “history”—we’ve lived a good number of years. That means we have much to be grateful for, but also that we have accumulated some sins, some missteps, and some wrong turns along the way.
One of the temptations of aging is to reflect back on those feelings and experiences, almost obsessively. But the very memory of our past mistakes is meant to bring us to a radical dependence on God’s mercy, to a keen awareness that only God can save us. We are called to a total trust in God, rather than our own selves, knowing only He can get us to Heaven.
Saint Anthony of the Desert put it this way: “Don’t trust in your own righteousness, and don’t worry about things done in the past.”
Every age has its blessings, and our “senior age” is no exception. What are the blessings of aging? They are many! Here’s a few: a broader vision of what’s important, and what’s not; inner peace; trust in God’s plan; ability to laugh at oneself (and more opportunities to do so!); greater treasuring of the beauty of creation, and of people in every stage of life (especially the children), and of every moment of life that God gives us.
As we age, we’re asked to find that “middle ground,” where we treasure each new day and every person we meet as God’s great gift to us, and yet are able to hold more gently onto life, aware of that deep desire in our hearts to finally go home and be with Our Lord.
As I grew up, the old farmers near us used to say, “As I get older, I find I’m good company for myself.” There’s a great truth there. Aging affords us more quiet, more alone time, and, far from being a curse, that can be a great blessing—more time for quiet, for prayer, for reflection, and for meeting oneself at a deeper level.
Aging calls us to leave the desert of self-concern and self-focus, and to open more widely not only to Our Lord but also to the people who can bring us joy and who can liberate us from the tyranny of the self.
Jesus brings us “abundant life” as we age, in so many ways, but certainly by His living Word in the Sacred Scriptures, by His Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by the people He sends into our lives, living icons of His goodness to us.
As we age, the pain of people pierces our hearts. We see others making tragic mistakes, going down dead-end paths, and we ache for them. We join Our Lord in feeling the sorrow of those who do not love Him. We pray for them and double our efforts to love God in their stead.
One of the joys of aging gracefully is letting others shine, giving others the spotlight. Ask questions of others, and let them be the center of attention. It’s actually a Joy to do so!
“The Duty of the Moment” is the royal road to holiness. It is God’s will for us. It can be very simple—unpacking the dishwasher, cooking a meal, calling a friend, driving carefully, taking extra time for prayer–it’s all about embracing whatever is our duty of the moment, and usually it won’t be real “jazzie,” but it’s God’s will for us! This was Saint Thérèse’s way to great holiness. The duty of the moment aligns our life with God’s plan for our life, which is right where we want to be.
Here’s an interesting thought: “Yes, you’re retired, but what new is God calling you to?” Pray over that, and see where it goes.
One of the great opportunities with aging is prayerful silence. Turn off the radio and TV and put yourself in God’s presence. Take time with Him. Bask in His loving gaze—it’s always there. He’s always loving you.
One of the concerns that comes with aging is too much TV news. It’s almost always negative and contentious. Folks who watch lots of it (and we have more time for it now that we’re retired) test out higher for depression and paranoia. Not good news! If this is you, watch less TV news and look forward to a more peaceful heart.
The “job” of retirement and the last phase of our life is to prepare for our death. There is the remote preparation which is going on right now and the proximate preparation when we know death is imminent. We are called to make decisions now in conspectu eternitas (“in light of eternity”). In other words, I won’t live forever, and I want to prepare even now.
There’s a beautiful phrase in Scripture that describes Jesus after Mary and Joseph found Him in the Temple. It says, “He aged in grace and wisdom before God and man.” “Aging with grace”—what does that look like? Certainly it would include no bitterness in our heart. And forgiveness of anyone whom we have yet to forgive.
Did you realize that if we gathered together all the words that Jesus speaks in the Gospels, the theme of Forgiveness is the third most frequent subject on His lips? Clearly forgiveness is very important to Jesus and of course it is crucial for our life as well. Forgiveness is simply a turning over of any resentment in our hearts into the hands of our Lord.
Pray often the “Forgiveness Our Father.” At the words “…as we forgive those who trespass against us…,” stop. Tell our Lord you know you need His help in order to accomplish the forgiveness to which He calls you.
Although, sadly, the meaning has been changed, the word “euthanasia” originally had a good meaning. “Eu” is a Greek word meaning “good.” “Thanasia” means “death.” And there is such a thing as a good death. We believe in a holy death. Saint Joseph is the patron of a happy death. Pray to him often for that grace for you and your loved ones.
To help your family, tell them about your wishes having to do with your last days and your death. They want to know your desires so they can respect them. It’s important to address issues such as your legal will, burial plot, headstone, funeral home, healthcare power of attorney, Scriptures and songs for your funeral, and your directives in regard to extraordinary means in times of serious illness.
The Anointing of the Sick is a powerful Sacrament before major surgery and certainly provides much grace in your last days. A practical point: you are encouraged to ask for this Sacrament if possible while still conscious so that you can pray and participate in the Sacrament along with your priest and family.
In retirement, obviously you have more available time at your disposal. How to spend it is a crucial question. Some holy options include daily Mass, more time every day for prayer and Scripture, Eucharistic Adoration, volunteering to help those in need, sharing your wisdom with children, grandchildren and future generations, and being interested in others and in their life. Involve them in conversation. When an elderly person asks questions of those younger than them, it is a special grace.
Saint John Paul II wrote a beautiful letter to the elderly in 1999. In it he said, “I am one of you; I’m elderly too.” He spoke of a need for closer contact with other people of his own age and life experience. I think that’s a need we can all identify with.
Saint John Paul II, in his letter to the elderly, notes that as time passes we are able to see our past experiences in a clearer light, and time softens their painful side. Amen! There’s a truth to that old song that goes “So it’s the laughter we will remember whenever we remember the way we were.” Our Lord seems to “gentle” our memory as we get older. Certainly this is one of His loveliest gifts to us.
All of us experience the incredible, fast passage of time. “Time flies.” Amen to that! Thank God our souls will survive beyond death. In fact, they’ll live forever. Our horizon, as Saint John Paul II says, has no end. Our life is set against the horizon of immortality.
Saint John Paul II also points out societal obligations to the elderly. He says we honor the elderly in three ways: 1) welcoming them; 2) helping them; 3) and making good use of their qualities. He quotes Cicero: “The burden of age is lighter for those who feel respected and loved by the young.” Sometimes we may need to gently teach those younger than we are those virtues 🙂 I’m blessed to be “spoiled” by my family and my brother priests. So I personally know the truth of what Saint John Paul II says.
Saint John Paul II points out that while our bodies age, the human spirit can remain ever young if it is constantly turned toward eternity. He speaks of an “enduring youthfulness” until we cross into the beyond, “where there is neither youth nor old age, but where all are perfect in spiritual maturity.”
There is an incredible and a growing opportunity for grandparents to teach their grandchildren the faith. Often, you will be the only ones doing so.
Often, illness, loneliness, or other sufferings come with old age. But we believe that God will give us the grace to unite our sufferings with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and thereby to become an important part of God’s plan of salvation.
It is natural to wonder about our death and to experience a certain sadness and fear as we do so. But, as Saint John Paul II points out, Christ has crossed the threshold of death and revealed the life that lies beyond in that “uncharted territory of eternity.” Christ is the First Witness of eternal life. It is our faith which “throws light on the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age.”
As we age, the desire for eternity grows within us. We have said goodbye to many of our loved ones. Simeon says it well as he holds the Christ Child, “Lord, now you may dismiss your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29).
Christian hope is an essential virtue to have as you age. It helps us entrust our future to God’s loving care. Let us indeed savor every season of our life as God’s gift to us. And when the final moment of our life comes, may our gracious God help us to face it with serenity and with no regrets for what we leave behind. After having sought God for so long, we now will see our Beloved Lord face to face.
As we get older and reflect on our life’s history, we realize there is no way we can get to Heaven on our own merits. We realize it’s only through the love and mercy of our God that we’ll get there. And living life with that awareness is a very good way to live.
The Book of Revelation talks about “a great multitude from every nation and race and people and tongue” (Rev. 7:9). In other words, in Heaven we will belong to a great multitude, a great people. Besides the incredible Beatific Vision of our Lord, we will be aware of the multitude with us adoring Him. We are on a journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem, our true home.
Even as every season of the year has its joys, so also every season of our life has its joys. And, yes, that includes the season of our Aging. What are your joys in this season of your life?
Further Reading: Identity and Mission