On the Cross, Jesus says, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:27). Jesus gives us His very Mother to be our Mother. And her greatest desire is to bring us to her Son. We need not fear that attention to her, love for her, will divert us from Christ. It’s just the opposite. The more we love her, the greater will be our love for her Son.
Saint John Paul II encourages us: “By virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death. And to realize how quickly time flies is to be called to make full use of the years we still have before us.” We cannot say it often enough: “Our soul never dies.” And, as our Holy Father said, the almost speed-of-light passage of time calls us to an alert, holy use of every day Our Lord gives us.
In Scripture, old age is esteemed as a sign of divine favor. Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Nicodemus—the pages of Scripture are filled with holy, aged people who are essential parts of God’s plan.
The Eucharist awes us with the over-abundant goodness of our God. We say, “Here’s some bread,” and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says to us, “Thank you so much. Here’s My Body and Blood!” It’s like saying to someone, “Here’s a quarter,” and they respond, “Thank you! Here’s a million dollars in return!” The exchange at every Mass is overpowering. We can never “out-give” our God.
Scripture presents old age as a favorable time for bringing life to its fulfillment, as a time when everything comes together and enables us better to grasp life’s meaning and to attain wisdom of heart. Old age is the final stage of human maturity and a sign of God’s blessing.
The process of maturing into old age benefits the larger society of which we elderly are a part. The elderly help us see human affairs with greater wisdom because life’s struggles have brought them knowledge and maturity.
The elderly are guardians of our collective memory and therefore are privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values that support and guide life in our society.
I’m told that from 1917 on, when the Communists took over Russia, it was the Grandmas who kept the faith alive with their grandchildren. Quite often the faith “skipped a generation” but continued with the grandchildren. In many cases, that is the situation today, right here in our own country.
In the Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the Elderly (#12), he makes this observation from Cicero: “The burden of age is lighter for those who feel respected and loved by the young.” I think we all agree with that.
The human spirit, if it is constantly turned toward eternity, remains ever young.
When God permits us to suffer because of illness or loneliness or for other reasons, He always gives us the grace and strength to unite ourselves with even greater love to the Sacrifice of His Son and to share more fully in His plan of salvation. He is a Father rich in love and mercy.
As we age, we naturally consider our “twilight.” We are reminded of it as the ranks of our family members, friends, and acquaintances grow ever thinner. Life is a pilgrimage towards our Heavenly home, and old age is the most natural time to look towards the threshold of eternity.
It is understandable that even we elderly shrink from death. Man has been made for life. Death was not part of God’s original plan but came because of sin. Something deep within us intuits that. Even Christ, in His agony in the garden, shrunk back in the face of His own death; yet ultimately He chose the will of the Father. In that choice is our salvation and the roadmap for our own future as well.
Death forces us to ask the most fundamental questions about life: “What’s on the other side of death? Is death the end, or does life go on?” Jesus answers those questions: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25).
There’s a beautiful line in the Preface for the Funeral Mass that says, “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended.” Our faith illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age. It calls us to approach our own death not as the expectation of a calamity but as a promise-filled approach to the goal of our lives—full maturity in Christ.
In many cultures, the elderly are at the center of the circle, their experience and wisdom are highly valued. That’s not so true, sadly, in other cultures today. But the young and the middle-aged all need what you have to give them. If you look, there will be opportunities to share with them what God has given you.
There’s a certain “death” that comes as we say goodbye to physical health and prowess and as we experience the struggle of aging. But God has “new life” for us on the road ahead.
I often think of our lives like the big public swimming pool in our town. On one end, you can walk right into it—the water’s only a few inches deep. But as you keep walking, it gets deeper and deeper, and then it’s over your head. Finally at the end, where the diving board is, it’s twelve feet deep. In a parallel way, we are called to deeper and deeper trust in our Lord as we go through life and to deeper and deeper surrender to Him and to His will for our lives, until at the moment of our death we let go completely into His loving arms.
Our lives on Earth are beautiful, wonderful gifts, but they are not the ultimate value. Scripture says that here on Earth, “…we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14, RSVCE).
Think of death as a “passage,” a bridge between one life and another, between the fragile and uncertain joy of this earth and the fullness of joy which God holds in store for His faithful servants: “…enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21c, RSVCE).
“I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me from life to Life” (Saint John Paul II). This life is beautiful indeed, but nothing in comparison to what awaits us in God’s Kingdom.
A prayer for a holy death: Grant, Lord, that we may face the moment of our definitive journey with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting You, after having sought You for so long, we shall find, once more, every authentic good which we have known here on Earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope (Saint John Paul II’s Letter to the Elderly, October 1, 1999, #18).
As both my mom and dad approached their deaths, I noticed their circle of interests got more and more narrow. Gradually they let go of their outside interests and focused on their family and on God. They didn’t want to chat much, but loved it when we would pray with them. And then, in their last days, their only focus was on God.
God prepares us for Himself. Gradually, even our ability to do the things we used to do goes away. In the book He and I by Gabrielle Bossis, Gabrielle asks the Lord why He took away her talents. God assures her, “Because I’m preparing you for Me, so you can put your mind on me” (Bossis 2013).
One holy woman said, “When I have a headache, I unite it to Christ’s crown of thorns. The arthritis in my hands and feet I unite to the nails in Christ’s hands and feet, and when my whole body aches, I unite it to the scourging. I can unite every suffering with His for the salvation of souls.” (See also Colossians 1:24.)
If God gives age, He does it for a purpose. He wants us to help Him out with our prayers and with our sufferings, united with His suffering on the Cross.
There’s a great little book titled Don’t Waste Those Sorrows. It’s a meditation on those mysterious lines in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…”
Some good advice from an elderly lady: “Love people. Some don’t respond to your love, but keep on loving them all the same. If someone hurts me, I ask God to bless them.” Saint John of the Cross advises, “Where there is no love, put love and then you will find love.”
When you get old, you have to have a sense of humor. If something gets you mad or upset, look on the “funny side” and the “sunny side.”
As we age, it is vital to come to a deeper prayer life. In retirement, we have a whole new career: Prayer. As they say, “Gray power is pray power.”
There’s a clever sign that proclaims: “Don’t just do something, stand there!” That makes an important point. Our culture is very much into “doing-doing-doing.” This approach takes a toll on the elderly, who can do much less than they used to be able to do. But from the perspective of our faith, Being comes before Doing. We are made in the likeness and image of God, and Jesus died on the Cross to save us, to save our Being, to save who we are.
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