The Holy Father has a big role in mind for the elderly
—Pope Francis, “Poets of Prayer.” General Audience, March 11, 2015.
“Granddad Husted, the favored title for my Great Grandfather, John, and his son Seth, my grandfather, made only a slim profit—and some years none at all—from their apple enterprise. They stayed in the orchard business because they loved their trees. They loved growing them, harvesting them, and looking at them. From Granddad and Seth, my father learned that the trees themselves meant more than their utility,”
—Anne Husted Burleigh
“I have been reading about Arganthonius of Gades who reigned for eighty years and lived for a hundred and twenty. Even so, I suggest that nothing can be called long if it has an end. For when that end comes, then all that has gone before has vanished. Only one thing remains—the credit you have gained by your good and right actions.”
–Cicero, “On Old Age,” VII.
In his General Audiences, Pope Francis has been reflecting on the various members in a family and their relationship to each other. “In today’s (March 11) catechesis we continue our reflection on grandparents, considering the value and importance of their role in the family.” The Holy Father, of course, is of an age where his cohorts in time are now mostly grandparents and great-grandparents. He often reflects on his own grandparents.
One is very fortunate to have grandparents during at a least the early part of one’s life. My paternal grandfather died several months before I was born. My maternal grandmother died when I was five and my maternal grandfather when I was eight. My paternal grandmother took care of my younger brothers, sister, and me after the death of our mother when I was nine. I always read Cicero’s famous essay “On Old Age” with undergraduate students just to be sure that they were aware of the importance in their lives, one way or another, of their grandparents.
Pope Francis recalls, with some pride, that when he was in the Philippines, he was called “Lolo Kiko”, which evidently means “Grandpa Francis”.
What do the elderly need, above all, to recognize about themselves? “It is true that society tends to discard us, but the Lord definitely does not. The Lord never discards us.” The point Francis makes here is that, whatever we make of the appreciation that society may or may not give us, the important thing is God, whatever society might think or do. We are called to follow God in every period of our lives. “Old age has a grace and a mission too, a true vocation from the Lord. Old age is a vocation. It is not yet time to ‘pull in the oars.’” I presume the “oar” reference means that life is like a voyage on a row boat wherein we keep rowing until we reach our final destination.
Old age is a different time of life. We have to “invent” it for ourselves “because our society is not ready, spiritually and morally, to appreciate the true value of this stage of life.” In past ages, having many elderly around was not so common. We live in a unique age in which we live much longer than human life in previous ages. Even Christianity was “surprised” that it needed to develop a spiritual life for the elderly. Yet, we do have the testimony of many elderly saints, both male and female.
Some time ago, a “Day for the Elderly” had been held in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope recalls numerous couples coming up to tell him that they had been married fifty or sixty years. “It is important to present this to young people, who tire so easily: the testimony of the elderly in fidelity is important.”
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