Thursday, February 14, 2013
It is Beautiful to be Old!
Ash Wednesday, 2013
I imagine that many of us had particular plans about lent this year. Maybe plans to give up certain things that we have traditionally given up each year, such as sweets or tv, or new routines that have been planning, like going to daily Mass or the Stations of the Cross. These practices of increased prayer and fasting are very important in allowing us to be open to the conversion that Christ wishes to offer us this season.
But then on Monday we had quite a surprise, didn’t we? The pope will be resigning. And so our 40 days of preparation for Easter will now coincide with preparation for and the receiving of a new Pope. Even though these events will take place in Rome, I am sure that we will all be quite aware of the developments through modern media – which is a real blessing. Because the Pope is not just the bishop of Rome; he is also the supreme pontiff of the universal Church, one who is a sign and a protector of the unity of all Catholics to Christ and to one another.
So now our lent takes on a different flavor, doesn’t it? And we might ask, well what flavor? Is it the flavor of endless speculation about who will be the next pope? I certainly hope not.
Is it the flavor of endless comparing of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and trying to figure out what qualities the next pope will need? I think that is not really for us to decide. So how can we observe lent this year while at the same time taking into account this critical time in the life of the Church?
I would suggest two ways:
1. By increasing our prayer for the Church. We have already been praying for a new bishop. Now we have the added responsibility of praying for a new pope. Concretely, I would suggest that we pray for the Church and for the cardinals who will elect the pope on a daily basis in the coming weeks. Even if it is a short prayer in the morning. The media and much of our world do not understand the truth about how leadership is selected in the Church: that it is a process of prayer and fasting, not one of power and politicking. And we can participate in this prayerful discernment here in our parish as we ask God to help the Church to be receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as she discerns who will be our new earthly shepherd.
2. But there is a second way that I think our Lenten observance can change this year, that I want to emphasize in particular. And that is in our prayer for the pope, who has reached a point in his life where his health is failing, and to also be particularly attentive to those who share in the same cross, the elderly of our parish. How quickly the pope himself has been forgotten in the news coverage, as tv crews run off to try to figure out who the next guy will be, and how easily in our own community we pass by the homes and institutions where our own elderly live.
We tend to focus on the first two of the three aspects of Lent: prayer and fasting. But this is also a season that should be characterized by almsgiving: the giving of ourselves, of our time, of our gifts, of our financial resources, of our attention to others; a time of generosity. The pope’s announcement reminds us of the cross that our older brothers carry – and encourages us to reach out in support and in solidarity with them. For those of you who are older and who are experiencing the burdens of old age, I encourage you in a particular way to be united to the pope in prayer and in reaching out to others. I would like to close with an address given by Pope Benedict when he visited a nursing home in Rome this past November, probably already then aware that he would be resigning this spring:
“I come to you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an old man visiting his peers. It would be superfluous to say that I am well acquainted with the difficulties, problems and limitations of this age and I know that for many these difficulties are more acute due to the economic crisis. At times, at a certain age, one may look back nostalgically at the time of our youth when we were fresh and planning for the future. Thus at times our gaze is veiled by sadness, seeing this phase of life as the time of sunset. This morning, addressing all the elderly in spirit, although I am aware of the difficulties that our age entails I would like to tell you with deep conviction: it is beautiful to be old! At every phase of life it is necessary to be able to discover the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches they bring. We must never let ourselves be imprisoned by sorrow! We have received the gift of longevity. Living is beautiful even at our age, despite some “aches and pains” and a few limitations. In our faces may there always be the joy of feeling loved by God and not sadness.
Dear friends, at our age we often experience the need of the help of others; and this also happens to the Pope. I would like to ask you to seek in this too a gift of the Lord, because being sustained and accompanied, feeling the affection of others is a grace!
This is important in every stage of life: no one can live alone and without help; the human being is relational. And in this case I see, with pleasure, that all those who help and all those who are helped form one family, whose lifeblood is love. Dear elderly brothers and sisters, the days sometimes seem long and empty, with difficulties, few engagements and few meetings; never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness. The Pope loves you and relies on all of you! May you feel beloved by God and know how to bring a ray of God’s love to this society of ours, often so individualistic and so efficiency-oriented. And God will always be with you and with all those who support you with their affection and their help.”