In these 10 lessons one priest has learned from a long life, Father offers his thoughts on aging, happiness and priorities.
How would you respond to this advice?: Let me tell you something—getting old is not for sissies!
How about this observation?: “Golden Years”?!? HA!!”
I received these pearls years ago from my elders. I tucked them away, planning to review them at the right time. As I write this, two days away from age 60, now may be that time.
There was a time when 60 was considered old, even elderly, but at least in my time and place, 60 is not quite “senior”—nonetheless I’m sure that I can see “seniority” from here. Before I look ahead, I want to look back, and review what some people call “significant” birthdays, that is, ages which end in a zero.
Aging in the first decades
Turning 10, I decided that I wasn’t a child anymore. I wasn’t yet familiar with St. Paul’s exhortation to put aside childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11) but I felt that call. To prove that I wasn’t a child, I bequeathed my entire Matchbox car collection to a younger cousin. That was my first experience of stoicism.
Turning 20, I felt cheated. “Just when I thought I’d figured out this ‘teenager thing,’ it goes away!” My enthusiasm for the adult world, along with my confidence in being able to live as an adult, were incomplete.
Age 30 arrived, and I accepted that my membership in the adult world was undeniable. The responsibilities were obvious to me, the benefits slightly less so—and possibilities seemed plentiful. I was seeking definition in my life, and I saw definition as an opportunity in terms of freedom rather than in terms of restriction. That is, with definition, I could be free for goods that wouldn’t be attainable otherwise.
The tempo of aging increases
By 40, life seemed very serious. I realized that being an adult (barring some unforeseen incident) would take a long time. I’d been around long enough to acquire deep regrets and painful failures, and ghosts of missed opportunities emerged. Still, there was time, I told myself, to do better.
Age 50 threatened to arrive with a thud. Along with the passing years came opportunities for more regrets, failures and missed opportunities. Time appears more as something behind you rather than ahead of you. My late mentor, Paul Weiss, lived to be 101, writing books to the very end. Even if I were to imitate him, it was undeniable that I was getting ready to pass the halfway mark. Dare I hope that I’d live the second half of my live better than I’d lived the first half? My spiritual director urged me to count my blessings and surrender to God who was with me in all of my highs and lows. That was good advice, and I commend it to all, regardless of one’s age.
60 is the next milestone rushing towards me. I am blessed—very much so. My health is good. Although the years since 50 have been especially painful, they’ve been, if I may say so, especially fruitful. Neither the grief nor the growth need concern us here. Instead, let’s focus on gratitude. Psalm 116:12: “What shall I return to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” Of course, I cannot reciprocate—I cannot return to God in equal measure, and I cannot give God anything that he needs, for he needs nothing. Nonetheless, I can choose to imitate God by giving with love what I have and who I am.
10 unsolicited pieces of advice for all ages
To that end, I now offer, in no particular order, unsolicited advice suitable for all ages, but especially the young:
1Count your blessings daily.
That’s the basis of gratitude, and gratitude is most pleasing to God.
2Surrender immediately the illusion that you can sin safely.
Sin is an untameable wild animal, cunning and impossible to satisfy.
3Pray daily, especially Holy Mass, and pray always.
Learn to hear the Lord’s voice, and to feel the presence of your Heavenly Father.
4Go to confession frequently.
Learn to live as a loved sinner.
5Do all you can to please our Blessed Mother.
This includes daily Rosary, wearing her scapular and Miraculous Medal, and the Five First Saturdays.
6Learn the Rules of Discernment from Saint Ignatius Loyola. Memorize them.
7Be quick to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.
8Allow no room for resentment in your life—none.
Resentment is a lethal toxin for the soul.
9The greatest enemy of love is selfishness.
10Don’t waste time.
Seek to cultivate all your gifts, to make the most of your opportunities and resources.
When I write next, I will begin a series of meditations on pain. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.