On Aging

Wednesday, November 05, 2003



Many progressive Roman Catholics in America are either aging, or caring for aging relatives. Hopefully, our elders will pass their wisdom and experience on to the rest of us. The fourth commandment demands respect for our elders, which is a cherished value in most cultures. Unfortunately, in the United States, our consermerist culture panders to the inexperience of youth in order to make a sale.

The NCCB/USCC issued a wonderful letter in November of 1999 on the Blessings of Age. Being a mere youth of 38, I can only quote some of the final guidelines and suggest that we all access the link for further reflection.

The rest of this blog is from the letter:

To Pastors, Pastoral Staffs, and Parishioners

The command to honor father and mother means that we should, individually and as a community, support, protect and respect older persons.11

(Bishop Anthony Pilla)

  1. Older people are providers, not just recipients, of pastoral care.

    Our first question should not be "How can the parish serve older people?" but instead "How can the parish receive and fully embrace the gifts of older persons?" Older people bring a wealth of spiritual resources, deep faith, skills, experience, and especially after retirement, time in which to offer them. Far from draining parish resources, older people are themselves a valuable resource. Even those who obviously need pastoral care—the homebound, the disabled, the seriously ill—are also able to give pastoral care, for example, by praying for their families, caregivers, and others, by sharing their own faith lives, or even through the simple yet powerful ministry of presence. By encouraging older persons to make their unique contribution, we affirm their dignity and value within the community of faith.

  2. Older people themselves should help to identify their pastoral needs and decide how they are met.

    This is the principle of participation. Who knows better than older persons themselves what their needs are? Yet we marginalize older persons when we make decisions for them rather than with them. This can make them second-class citizens with the faith community and, equally sad, can deprive the community of their experience and wisdom.

  3. Older people are as diverse, if not more so, than other generational groups.

    They are women and men; they are single (never-married, widowed, separated, or divorced), married, religious and clergy; they are from all races and ethnic backgrounds; they have a wide range of abilities and interests. They can differ in age from each other by twenty or more years. They defy stereotyping. They challenge the faith community to be as inclusive as possible in parish programming—for example, by remembering that older men, less numerous than older women, may need different types of service and social activities.

  4. Older people need a mix of activities that connect them with each other as well as the larger faith community.

    Older people, like most of us, need a group of peers with whom to share similar experiences, problems, and interests. Parish-sponsored seniors groups and daytime Bible study and service projects can bring together older persons for mutual support and friendship. We must take care, however, that seniors do not become isolated from the larger community. Parish service, social activities, and most important, Sunday liturgies will be richer when they attract a mix of generations. This means that activities must be physically accessible to all, with transportation available if needed.

  5. Spiritual health affects and is affected by the individual's physical, emotional, mental, and social health. While the faith community is especially concerned about meeting spiritual needs, it cannot ignore these other realities.

    One parish cannot meet all these needs of the older person; however, the parish must recognize these needs and be able to direct older persons, their family members, and caregivers to appropriate resources. We encourage parishes to join with local providers of aging services that respond to the needs of older people. Moreover, within the larger community the Church should strive to be an advocate with and for older persons. In its preaching and practice, the Church can affirm the dignity and value of older persons in the human community.

    We encourage pastors to study the impact of the increasing number of older persons on the parish. What do these demographic changes mean in terms of the parish's long-term vision, programming, budget, and staffing? We advocate a proactive stand that anticipates and meets older persons' needs as they arise and identifies ways of sharing the treasures of goodness, faith, and wisdom that older persons have to offer to enrich our faith communities.

To Younger Adults

Insult no man when he is old, for some of us, too, will grow old.

(Sir 8:6)

  1. Identify your own image of older persons.

    If it is mostly negative, please look around you, especially in your own family and parish. Do you see older relatives who are still very much part of family life, whether attending a grandchild's game or recital, counseling an adult child, or hosting the family's Thanksgiving dinner? Do you see older parish members who proclaim the Word, teach the children, or present the annual financial report? Do you see homebound persons who make a daily offering of their prayers and limitations? We ask you to see these older persons as God's gift to you and to the entire faith community. Talk with them, learn from them, and draw inspiration from them. They can show you a whole new perspective on growing older.

  2. Ask yourself, "What kind of person do I want to be in later life?"

    The seeds for successful aging are sown in young and middle adulthood. Do you seek out and nurture friendships? Do you strive to deepen your relationship with God through prayer and sacraments? Do you give up some of your free time to serve others? These efforts, begun now, will bear fruit as you grow older. You will become that wise, loving person who has learned to enjoy all stages of life as the Creator's precious gift.

Let us strive like the early Christians to love, honor and respect the widows and widowers and elders of our community, who will often have more knowledge, wisdom and life experience than any of the rest of us.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 9:51 AM

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