Growing Old by Monsignor Ferrarese

Often times, people in their elder years have said to me (usually after telling me of their aches and pains): “Don’t get old!” It’s a funny expression because we don’t have a choice about it. Time keeps moving forward and nothing can stop it!

We can try to change our mentality, however. Some say this with the catch phrase: “you’re as old as you feel”. Often, this is all about ‘other people’. But there comes a time in a person’s life when they realize that “I am getting old” or more accurately: “I am old!”

This idea does change sometimes. When my Dad retired at 65 years of age and got his gold watch (an ironic gift!), it seemed like the end of the road for him. Today, people have second careers and some don’t retire. With medical advances, 65 is no longer ‘old’ but ‘young old’ (followed by ‘middle old’ (70’s) and ‘old old’ (80’s) and above!).

What adds to the confusion is the prejudice of this era of time that exalts youth and condemns aging. People are not proud of getting old; youth is valued highly. In other cultures, the elders are a venerable group that everyone treats with respect, even reverence. Their experience of life is valued as wisdom and they are sought and consulted about many things.

Not in our modern culture, however. The elderly are no longer at the center of our lives, but put at the peripheries. The marvels of science have produced an extended life span, but have decreased the quality of life as one progresses (or regresses depending on one’s point of view.)

This devaluing of age has caused a sense of shame at getting old. People don’t want to talk about their age (until they hit 90 and ask you to guess their age—so happy and proud that they have lasted so long with their mind intact!)

Yet aging is part of God’s plan. There is a progressive wisdom as one loses some of the powers of youthfulness in that it brings to the fore our total dependence on God: “Blessed are the poor in spirit!”

Aging is the school of poverty. By this poverty, we don’t mean the dereliction of hunger and misery that we see throughout the world. Rather, it bespeaks the virtue of gradual mortification of our acquisitiveness and the learning to live in simplicity and ultimate dependence on God. In aging, we see this happening in a very dramatic way.

A noted professor of mine once said that we misunderstand the virtue of poverty. It is not truly poverty if it can be embraced (as in the vow of poverty), it becomes true poverty when it embraces you! Elders do not have to be convinced of this point. As you age, things that seemed only natural and given become the subject of intense concern. We start losing our hearing. We cannot see as clearly as before. Our balance is affected and we sometimes fall. Worse of all: our minds can’t be trusted any more. We forget, we misunderstand and we lose the bearings that we often took for granted. We wander from doctor to doctor, awaiting results from innumerable tests. We are at the mercy of drugs prescribed often accurately as we follow their protocols.

The main temptation during this time, as both the mystics and the therapists both attest to, is the temptation to despair. This is the ultimate test of our faith in God. It is reserved in large measure to this time as the ultimate purifying force. To emerge from this time intact is to begin to experience the love of God that knows no limit and cannot be thwarted. In growing old and facing these natural calamities while maintaining a trust in God is the ultimate test of our spiritual maturity. It is the time of ‘Confessors’: those who witness to the reality of God and His goodness in the midst of woe. It is a type of ‘white martyrdom’ that, while achieved without the shedding of blood, is a real and powerful attestation of God’s love when highly inconvenient and often at a time of great difficulty and stress.

Aging in the Lord is not easy, but it is the antechamber to eternal life and constant joy.

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