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.