Age in a Twilight of Idols
"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."
3.14, 8.7 )
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!
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
JOHN PAUL II
A Poor Clare Colettine Nun
for the Boston Catholic