Twenty-nine years ago today, hubby and I embarked on our parenting journey. Our first-born entered the world with healthy lungs announcing his displeasure at the sudden change of venue. We joked about him seeing his shadow and wanting to go back for six more weeks of snoozing. When hubby began the round of phone calls to share the good news, mention was made of it being Groundhog Day. But it was our dear Benedictine friend, Sr. Grace, who gently reminded us that it was also the Feast of the Presentation.
Luke’s gospel story of Mary and Joseph presenting the baby Jesus in the temple is filled with rich words and memorable characters. (Luke 2: 22-39) I always had a fondness for the prophet, Anna. She spent a mere 7 years with her husband, and was a widow until 84. Her days were spent praying and fasting in the temple.
Do you know an Anna? Our parish has been blessed with many Anna’s over the years. These are the faithful and faith-filled women who form the small remnant of weekday mass goers. They are present at every Eucharistic Adoration or extra prayer service. They arrive early, and leave late in order to pray more. They are the ones with the tattered prayer books and worn-out rosary beads. In our parish it was Anne, Pearl, Kay, Catherine, Helen, Tessie, Kate and more. When we first came to the parish, 30 years ago, some were already widows. Some are still alive today. Others have joined the glorious communion of saints, still joining their prayers with all holy women and men across time.
My favorite Benedictine community also had its Anna’s. These elder nuns were no longer able to participate in active ministry. But, they spent hours in the chapel praying for all.
Of course, we cannot forget the Simeon’s. But the men in the temple are usually front and center, so it is not easy to forget them. Today let’s remember, with gratitude, all the quiet women prophets in our midst.
Here in Canada, fifty-five is becoming the retirement age for the lucky few who have secure pension plans. Meanwhile, some unions are fighting against mandatory retirement at sixty or even sixty-five, much to the frustration of younger workers seeking employment or an opportunity to move up in their careers. For those who are self-employed, the age of retirement is not so clear cut. And in professions that are experiencing a shortage (such as health-care), there is pressure to work for as long as one is able to.
In our local church, our diocesan priests can ask to retire at sixty-five. With the current shortage, many continue full parish and administrative duties past this age. Bishops can look forward to `freedom 75`, the canonical age at which they must retire. Cardinals have voting rights within a papal conclave until the age of eighty.
I have friends who are religious sisters, brothers and priests who continue to serve their congregations in leadership roles well into their sixties and seventies. Their work requires extensive travel to oversee mission projects and visit foundations in all corners of the developing world. It exhausts me just to think of the fatigue and jet lag. Many vowed religious `retire` from professional careers only to give their time and energy to social justice work.
My own parents retired early, but never stopped being active. My father is an inspector of home-built aircraft. He mentors other home-builders while working on his own plane. My mother turned to art in her fifties, and is now an accomplished artist. They are both voracious readers and love a good discussion. They are my model and inspiration, showing me how to nurture and support our creative potential throughout life.
Retirement can be a misnomer. How many retired friends do you have that say they`re busier than ever? My husband is turning fifty-five next week. No, there is no retirement in our near future. Our game plan is to continue working as long as we can provide a service to our community. But we are learning to slow down and enjoy more holy leisure along the way!
Advanced age does not guarantee advanced wisdom. We all know that true wisdom can come from the mouths of babes, and stupidity can spout forth from many an adult.
Wisdom, unlike knowledge, cannot be attained through study alone. Wisdom is gained from experience. The challenges, struggles and suffering of human existence can`t be avoided. But we can choose how to respond to them. We can dig deep to find the meaning and purpose of the suffering, and thereby grow from it. Or, we can assume a victim mentality full of bitterness, anger and hatred. We can choose to focus on life`s blessings or life`s curses. We can be open to the wisdom of God and those around us, or be so self-absorbed that the only voice we hear is our own.
We all know women and men who exude wisdom in their elder years. They don`t believe they are the keepers of all knowledge, pontificating to any poor soul within their reach. They don`t dole out unwanted advice, insisting that they know best merely by virtue of their age. They know that wisdom is a gift, and gifts are meant to be shared. They speak from an experience of a life fully lived and fully pondered. They teach us, by example, that true wisdom is attained through an open mind and heart that is ever-seeking deeper understanding of the truths of life.
The truly wise never stop listening for Wisdom`s voice, for they know that she can still whisper to them through a young child or float across rustling weeds at the water`s edge on a summer`s afternoon.
Filed under elders, faith
Fifty is the new thirty, a phrase most probably coined by baby boomers. I’m part of this group born in the years 1946-1964. Our sheer numbers meant we were, and are, a force to be reckoned with. We posed a challenge to society in each of our life stages from birth to school to post-secondary education to the work force. Red flags are now being raised about our upcoming take-over of the elder demographic. Dire financial forecasts bemoan the heavy burden we will place on health care and social services. It’s a tough guilt trip after a life-time of working, raising and supporting children, and paying more than our fair share of taxes.
Recently I’ve been noticing another baby boomer guilt trip within our own church. I admit that I have no empirical proof for this observation, and I`m not trying to make any generalizations (which I dislike and seldom trust). It`s merely a simple observation after reading and reflecting on recent articles and online discussions.
Some more traditionally minded Catholics blame baby boomers for the post-Vatican II reforms – reforms they believe had a negative effect on the Church. Now we are being portrayed as aging hippies whose current reform efforts within the Church are being rejected by the younger generation.
Is this true? Do only middle-aged and older women care if the priesthood excludes them? Do movements like Call to Action, We are Church or Voice of the Faithful speak only to baby-boomers?
Traditionalists and liberals come in all ages, but are we facing a new trend in our church? Baby boomers led many of the protest movements of the latter half of the 20th century. They were the young voice challenging the traditions of the older generations. Are we now facing an era where the younger generation takes up the banner of traditionalism while the voice of reform and protest comes from the elders?
This blog post was written by Ray McCracken. He shares his wisdom on aging, gleaned from a unique experience with elder religious brothers and priests.
In the midst of a recent project where I interviewed 200 senior members of a religious order of brothers and priests, I began to observe that “aging”, which I now see as “the gift of days”, could be the most productive and enjoyable stage of life. I learned that aging is not a failure but a process of growth and diminishment towards our authentic self. As these elderly men shared their life stories with me, I began to see the mystery of aging as God’s desire for us for the fullness of spiritual development and union with God. Through the lens of these brothers and priests, aging could be seen as our deepest human desire for holiness by the embracing of limits and loss.
This project made me look at my own aging process. I am 66 years old. I began to ask myself, how is my outgrowing where I have been and aging actually a God driven event? This continues to be a profoundly human question that requires reflection. What is the meaning of this, it is not just biology? There must be a soul meaning. Why is it that the loss of energy and the loss of productivity, the loss of some of the old pleasures in life, open up a deeper reality?
The culture identifies “aging” with failure. The challenge here is befriending the evolution of what God is about in you. Aging is not any failure on your part but God working on your wisdom and creating you as you truly need to be. “Old age is not a punishment but a victory.”
It doesn’t take long to learn who the ‘long-timers’ are in a parish. My husband and I moved to town as newlyweds in 1981. We were warmly welcomed, and soon became a parish fixture ourselves as the babies began to arrive. For every prim and proper church lady who tut-tutted every time our children made a sound, there were others who delighted in seeing the lively crew in the front pew. “You have a beautiful family” were precious words to hear after a long hour of pretending we were in control of our children! God bless the parish elders who welcome young families.
Having been in our parish for thirty years now, we have experienced the loss of many of our elders. One by one, their cherished spots in the pew become empty. Their faithful presence in life makes their absence even more apparent. Here are just a few memories.
“Whispering Kay” spoke in the loudest of stage whispers to her nearby friends before and during mass. My husband and I suppressed many a giggle at her comments and opinions. She was the devoted keeper of the church plants. Sadly, the plants seldom survived her tender care.
“The Prophetess Anna” who, like her namesake in Luke 2, spent many hours in the temple praying. If there was Eucharistic Adoration, Anna spent each and every minute in her pew. I asked her once what she prayed for in all that time. “I pray for each and every one of you” was her answer.
“A Pearl of great price” was a widow since the mid 1970’s. Like Anna, Pearl is a great woman of prayer. Nothing stopped Pearl from attending mass. One Sunday, when she was hospitalized, she asked to be taken to mass in her wheel-chair.
Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m much more aware of the elders in our parish now. We have ushers that can barely walk up the aisle but still faithfully take up the collection and offertory. We have several couples married fifty and even sixty-plus years. The tenderness they show to each other gives us hope when much younger marriages keep failing.
Perhaps this Sunday, we can all take a look around the pews and make an effort to greet our elders. And don’t forget to say a prayer for them – because they are probably saying one for you.
Forty is the old age of youth. Fifty is the youth of old age. According to this, I`m a spring chicken in the elder club!
Here in Canada, we joke about our obsessive attention to political correctness. But I am proud of our desire to use language that does not diminish others by focusing on what is considered a weakness or disability in the eyes of society. A current trend is to rid our language of ageism. We no longer speak of old folks or even senior citizens. Elders is becoming the proper, politically correct term.
Elders connote wisdom gleaned and earned from a rich, full, and long life. Our mainstream North American culture has much to learn from other cultures who truly respect the elders in their families and communities. We can learn to respect those who nurtured us when we were too weak to care for ourselves. Caring for them in return is not a favour to be performed grudgingly, but an obligation given out of gratitude and love. We can learn how to seek the wisdom of those who laid the foundation for our own lives. Our knowledge may be `newfangled`, but true wisdom is timeless and must be passed on through the generations.
Of course, we can`t generalize any population group. Not all babies are cute and cuddly all the time. Not all teenagers are raging parcels of roller-coaster hormones. And, not all elders are gentle, compassionate wisdom figures. But we have much to learn from those whose shoulders we stand on.
My next few blog posts will reflect on elders, especially their roles, gifts and needs in our church.