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Old Age in a Twilight of Idols

 

Elderly Hand Wikipedia

 

"Son, support the old age of thy father, and grieve him not in his life;  And if his understanding fail, have patience with him, and despise him not when thou art in thy strength: for the relieving of the father shall not be forgotten. Despise not a man in his old age; for we also shall become old."  (Ecclesiasticus 3.14, 8.7 )

 


We live in a society that idolizes, apotheosizes, youth to the point of obsession. It is nothing less than idolatry, and the idol chosen — the young man, the young woman — is a poor substitute for God, being at best the mere image of God ... an image concealed beneath thin superficialities, obscured by cosmetics and disfigured by scalpels. This empty, designer world, has called all ages to its feet to fill them with self-loathing and spurious shame ... until they conform to the "model" that some effete and lecherous mogul holds up to them as the ideal ... the ideal that to fall short of is shame. And for the few who starve themselves sufficiently, purge themselves through vomitus and laxatives, who pay great sums and travel great distances in some empty hope of fame and fortune, or at the siren call of "youth", the reward is ... exploitation! Body, dignity, wallet, all three.

How did we end up in this sad state of affairs? Is this the patrimony we pass onto our children: if you are not comely, you are worthless. If your body does not fit some arbitrary parameters it, too, is worthless. When your skin loses the glow of youth and acquires the patina of maturity, you fall by the side. Life exists in a small and ever so brief window between the blemishes of adolescence and the first lines of wisdom. After the one and before the other, there is no life — and if you never fell into those biometrics, those increasingly diminutive parameters dubbed "beauty" — you never had a life to begin with and never will.

An instant, a misstep, a fall, an accident, an illness ... and your life vanishes in an instant and you are consigned to lesser forms of life. Right?

If you're the Mogul of Models, the Purveyor of False Youth, and can make a fortune off false promises ... then yes. To you it is.

It is not, however, the case for every father, every mother of every child, of every man, every woman who walks the face of this earth. They see beauty. They see something more than a pound of flesh in a child, a person. And the child sees something more than a biometrical model in her mother, in his father – who surrendered so much of their own youth for their children. What grandchild has not found something more beautiful in the breath of eternity surrounding a grandmother holding them dearly in love ... something of far greater beauty still than a youth that has long passed?

Because we have lost our sense of God, of the holy and good, we distance ourselves frantically from death and fixate ourselves on youth. Who has not felt a pang of sadness in his heart upon seeing a woman clinging to youth that has gone, oblivious to any beauty within herself. Instead of acquiring character, they have opted for a caricature. The world has done this to them every bit as it does it to our children, and both are tragic, for both have been robbed of dignity.

We have become idolaters of ourselves, humankind is becoming increasing self centered, self absorbed, and it is at a great cost and loss.

For most people today, their body is the main focal point of their lives — at the expense of the mind and soul. What an unprofitable and foolish trade! One endures. One does not. One grows in beauty, and one diminishes.

Worse still, countless numbers of us are suffering from spiritual anorexia: we are starved of that which will give us health and life, the Gospel of Christ, the Lord Jesus Himself in the Bread of Angels!

What a great disservice we do our children in our constant attentiveness to ourselves! We are cheating our children, denying them that necessary example of growing old with grace and into God — a path that they, too, must walk one day!

 

No Elixir of Life — only the Word of Life


Instead of our vanity and fetish-of-the-flesh, we should be passing on to our children our own wisdom and experience of life, and that which will in turn help them to choose rightly in their own lives.

It does not take extraordinary acumen to see how miserably we are failing. How often the elderly and aging are relegated to the the margins of our lives, instead of revered and honored. In our breathless pursuit of youth, of physical beauty, of notability in the world, we have no time for them. After all, "it's our time now! They had theirs." To our great misfortune, we shall hear these words from the mouths of our own children – and one day they will be addressed to us. Respice in finem!  Look to the end!

This callous attitude to old age does nothing to assist those now on the threshold of it. If you are not there yet, you soon will be ...

Most of us will eventually grow to experience old age, and it will not be of our choosing. No false promise, no "miraculous" elixir, no great stride in science — not even the most competent cosmetologists — can stave it off.

God intends that our old age should be the richest, perhaps even the most productive time of our lives, the time when the ugly accretions of the world and its superficiality fall away and we become transparent vessels of the love of God that others may see something much more clearly of Him in us, and through us be drawn to Him.

It is actually a time for the spiritual harvest of our souls, a harvest that we can freely share with others, having borne much fruit and in great abundance. We are then the
"Fields white to harvest."

Pope John Paul II had written the following Lenten address on this subject. Let us take time to reflect upon his words and search our hearts to see what message are we passing down to the next generation. Let us re-examine our own attitude to aging — and see where, with Gods grace, we can change and grow in such a way that we may support and help others along every path in life, from the most innocent in the womb, to the most vulnerable outside it.

Look with love deeply into the eyes of an old person: he or she has born the heat of the day, and has passed through much trial and suffering life. if you look with love you will see a depth of great beauty, a mirror of eternity, you will look into the eyes of a soul soon to close its own ... only to re-open them upon the very face of God!

 


 

Message of His Holiness John Paul II For Lent 2005


Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Each year, the Lenten Season is set before us as a good opportunity for the intensification of prayer and penance, opening hearts to the docile welcoming of the divine will. During Lent, a spiritual journey is outlined for us that prepares us to relive
the Great Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This is done primarily by listening to the Word of God more devoutly and by practicing mortification more generously, thanks to which it is possible to render greater assistance to those in need.

This year, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to bring to your attention a theme which is rather current, well-illustrated by the following verse from Deuteronomy: "Loving the Lord ... means life to you, and length of days..." (30:20). These are the words that Moses directs to the people, inviting them to embrace the Covenant with Yahweh in the country of Moab, "that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him" (30:19-20). The fidelity to this divine Covenant is for Israel a guarantee of the future: "that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them" (30:20). According to the biblical understanding, reaching old age is a sign of the Most High's gracious benevolence. Longevity appears, therefore, as a special divine gift.

It is upon this theme that I would like to ask you to reflect during this Lent, in order to deepen the awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church, and thus to prepare your hearts for the loving welcome that should
always be reserved for them. Thanks to the contribution of science and medicine, one sees in society today a lengthening of the human life span and a subsequent increase in the number of elderly. This demands more specific attention to the world of so-called old age, in order to help its members to live their full potential by placing them at the service of the entire community. The care of the elderly, above all when they pass through difficult moments, must be of great concern to all the faithful, especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present.

Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The Commandment "You shall not kill!" always requires respecting and promoting human life, from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the
presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant. If growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better comprehending the
Mystery of the Cross, which gives full sense to human existence.

The elderly need to be understood and helped in this perspective. I wish, here, to express my appreciation to those who dedicate themselves to fulfilling these needs, and I also call upon other people of good will to take advantage of Lent for making their own personal contribution. This will allow many elderly not to think of themselves as a burden to the community, and sometimes even to their own families, living in a situation of loneliness that leads to the temptation of isolating themselves or becoming discouraged.

It is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued. For this reason, economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them not to be excluded from social life, must be strengthened. In truth, during the last decade, society has become more attentive to their needs, and medicine has developed palliative cures that, along with an integral approach to the sick person, are particularly beneficial for long-term patients.

The greater amount of free time in this stage of life offers the elderly the opportunity to face the primary issues that perhaps had been previously set aside, due to concerns that were pressing or considered a priority nonetheless. Knowledge of the nearness of the final goal leads the elderly person to focus on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years do not destroy.

Precisely because of this condition, the elderly person can carry out his or her role in society. If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilization.

How important it is to rediscover this mutual enrichment between different generations! The Lenten Season, with its strong call to conversion and solidarity, leads us this year to focus on these important themes which concern everyone. What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness? Instead, how different the community would be, if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming towards them.

Dear brothers and sisters, during Lent, aided by the Word of God, let us reflect upon how important it is that each community accompany with loving understanding those who grow old. Moreover, one must become accustomed to thinking confidently about the mystery of death, so that the definitive encounter with God occurs in a climate of interior peace, in the awareness that He "who knit me in my mother's womb" (cf. Psalm 139:13b) and who willed us "in his image and likeness" (cf. Genesis 1:26) will receive us.

Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, leads all believers, especially the elderly, to an ever more profound knowledge of Christ dead and risen, who is the ultimate reason for our existence. May she, the faithful servant of her divine Son, together with Saints Ann and Joachim, intercede for each one of us "now and at the hour of our death."

My Blessing to All!

From the Vatican, September 8, 2004

JOHN PAUL II

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