Pope Francis has dedicated his recent Wednesday audience catecheses to the theme of the elderly. And he’s also been speaking from the heart about his own experience of age, given his knee injury that has forced him to use a wheelchair or a cane.
Not only the elderly can learn a lot from the Holy Father’s reflections and experience. They are a lesson for all of us to grow in our ability to truly honor the elderly — as we are commanded — and discover what a gift it is to spend time with them.
1Laugh and keep going
Look, I don’t feel [my age.] Maybe I stop to think that I’m 85 years old — I had to think about it when they operated on me, with the anesthesia. It seems … like something … unreal, this age. I laugh at myself and keep on going.
2Frail? Follow Him anyway
Discipleship [of Jesus] will have to learn to allow itself to be instructed and moulded by your frailty, your helplessness, your dependence on others, even in getting dressed, in walking. But you: “Follow me” (v. 19) [Jesus tells John]. Following Jesus always continues, in good health, in not so good health; with physical self-sufficiency and without physical self-sufficiency … to follow Jesus always — on foot, running, going slowly, in a wheelchair … but always following Him.
When one is old, one is no longer in control of one’s body. One has to learn to choose what to do and what not to do. … One must then learn to purify desire: be patient, choose what to ask of the body and of life. When we are old, we cannot do the same things we did when we were young: The body has another pace, and we must listen to the body and accept its limits. We all have them. I too have to use a cane now.
4To teach thanksgiving
If the elderly, instead of being rejected and dismissed from the scene of events that mark a community’s life, were placed at the center of collective attention, they would be encouraged to exercise the valuable ministry of gratitude towards God …
5Closer to where we’re all going
Old age has a unique beauty — we are [all] journeying toward the Eternal. … The elderly person moves ahead; the elderly person journeys towards the destination, towards God’s heaven; the elderly person journeys with the wisdom of lived experience.
6Let yourself be helped
By virtue of their weakness, the elderly can teach those who are living in other ages of life that we all need to abandon ourselves to the Lord, to invoke his help. In this sense, we must all learn from old age: yes, there is a gift in being elderly, understood as abandoning oneself to the care of others, starting with God himself.
7You have a great mission!
Take courage, all of us older people! Take courage and go forth! We have a very great mission in the world.
8Humans have failed; God has not
The elderly have experienced so much in life! And they have also seen the inconsistency of human promises; lawyers, scientists, even men of religion, … They have suffered so much in life. They have learned so much in life. They have gone through so much, but in the end they have this peace, a peace, I would say, that is almost mystical, that is, the peace of the encounter with God …
9Find your talents
The Lord does not entrust his talents only to the young and the strong. He has talents for everyone, made to fit each person, the elderly, too.
10You’ll see him
An old age spent in awaiting God’s visit will not miss his passing by. On the contrary, it will be even more ready to grasp it, having greater sensitivity to welcome the Lord when he passes by.
11What really matters
When Moses pronounces this confession of faith, he is on the threshold of the promised land, and also of his departure from life. He was 120 years old, the account notes, “but his eye was not dim” (Deut 34:7). That capacity to see, to really see, also to see symbolically, as the elderly do, who are able to see things, [to see] the most radical significance of things. The vitality of his gaze is a precious gift: it enables him to hand down the legacy of his long experience of life and faith, with the necessary clarity. Moses sees history and passes on history; the elderly see history and pass on history.