freedom 55…not for all!

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!

wisdom of elders

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.

baby boomer elders

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?