07 Jun A Spirituality of Aging
by Deacon Dr. Robert McDonald
My grandmother used to say, “Old age never comes alone, it brings all kinds of buddies with it.”
Two well-known researchers, Clark and Anderson,* agreed with my grandmother. Only they did it in a lot more detail. They reported in their study of aging people that there were seven main challenges facing them:
- A change in physical appearance,
- Partial or total retirement from active duties,
- Lower energy level,
- Greater possibility of ill health,
- Greater possibility of need of help,
- Changes in cognitive and intellectual functioning,
- Greater uncertainty about the duration of life.
In order to live in peace as we face these challenges and sufferings, it is vital to keep in mind that we have a heavenly Father who loves us and who works all things towards good for those who love him.
Here are some other indispensable truths to know and keep in mind as we grow older.
- In Ecclesiasticus 27:12, we are told of the difference between a foolish man and a wise man. The foolish man is like the moon, constantly changing. He looks for his contentment in worldly goods and pleasure, and since these are always fleeting, so too are his emotions.
The wise man, however, looks for his peace in Almighty God, who never changes, and so his mood is stable no matter what. So, deep down underneath whatever he might be suffering, if he is truly surrendered, he is at peace.
Naturally, there are many, many things that we want, and many of us do nothing but besiege God with our requests.
That is OK, but it is a far better thing to give up our wants, leave all things in the hands of God, and know that he will provide.
- It is vital to come to a deeper and deeper prayer life.
We may have had to retire from our lifelong career, but we now have a whole new one, and that is prayer. In other words, “Gray power is pray power.”
The prayer of an elderly person is very powerful and greatly cherished by the Lord.
My mother was very sure of this point. She once asked me if I thought she had retired. I said “yes” to that as she was 75 years old at the time.
She replied, “Oh no, you have to realize that I have a new job.” Picking up her rosary, she said, “I pray constantly for you because I know you are so busy that you cannot pray as much as you’d like.”
So there you have it. Gray power is pray power.
So let us pray for our loved ones. Let us pray for a fallen world. Let us storm heaven with prayers for souls that are being lost and fooled by the trinkets of the world. Let us give God our prayer, and he will transform that prayer into grace and bestow it on souls who otherwise would be lost, though they do not know it.
The rosary should be like our right hand.
And personally, I find the Jesus prayer to be the most helpful way to pray without ceasing. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” By repeating it as often as I can during my day, I am reminded of my total dependence on God’s mercy. It becomes a quiet murmuring in my heart.
- St. Frances de Sales on the question of prayer advises us to stop telling God how to solve our problems. We tend to ask our Father to do it our way and only our way.
“Oh God, my finances are in trouble. So here is what I want you to do. I want you to get me out of debt or to win the lottery or to find me a benefactor.”
St. Francis says that it is a far better thing to simply tell God about our problem and then allow him to come up with the solution. His plan is much more original and much more healing than anything we can come up with for ourselves.
As the Angel Gabriel said to Mary, nothing is impossible to God.
Do I believe that?
- Pray to accept the will of God, including losses, whatever they are. That means recognizing that my life is not about me. It is about God and his loving providence. He has my best interest at heart. He wants me to join him in heaven and so he does everything necessary for my salvation.
A holy abbot by the name of Deicola was once asked how he could be so cheerful all the time. He answered, “Because nothing and no one can ever deprive me of Jesus Christ.” And nothing and no one can ever deprive you of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Give God permission to act as he wishes in your life. That is to say, surrender to God’s will. Not my will but thine be done. Let him mould you like potter’s clay and recreate you in his image and likeness.
Like a lump of clay, be passive in letting God create a beautiful vase out of you. Do not resist his potter’s hands, but joyfully submit to whatever he chooses to do with you.
- Forgive everyone who has ever hurt you. How many elderly go out of their way to look for the good in others, to overlook their faults and to excuse members of the family who never visit them!
- One of the great assets which an aging person can enjoy is the faculty of wisdom. By dint of having spent so many years living on the earth, we have a lifetime of experience which we can share with the young.
They can learn so much from our wisdom of life. So we need be available to the youth and gently call them to a holy way of life. We can give wise counsel to those who are troubled and timely advice to teenagers.
Moreover, because we have likely had to face tragedy in our own lives, we are well equipped to comfort others in their tragedy.
Patience comes with wisdom, and some elderly astound us with their forbearance towards their own infirmities and towards the flaws and weaknesses of others.
- Along these lines, there is a lovely assurance by the Lord that we can become like the just man or woman:
The just will flourish like the palm tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just (Psalm 92).
I love that promise by God that I can still bear fruit in my advanced years.
No matter what my physical condition, I am still of value for society. Either I am in full possession of my faculties and so can contribute my skills to the community, or I am so disabled that I become a call for my community to love me and sacrifice themselves for my creature and spiritual needs. Either way, I am indispensable to the loving plan of God.
- The bottom line then for all of us is that as we age, we are called to grow in wisdom and into a holiness we could never achieve while we were children or teenagers or young adults.
- So as we get older in years, let us get bolder in Christ. Aging is meant to be a process of entering more and more deeply into the heart of Our Lord Jesus, of becoming more like him in his love and self-sacrifice for all of us.
“Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine.”
- Our total purpose in life is to become holy in preparation for the day on which the Lord will call us home. Old age is a wonderful gift which gives us more time and opportunity for this. It is the final trumpet call to holiness.
- Old age is the summit of life. It is the ultimate crowning glory of life. It is a gift from God.
*Clark, Margaret & Anderson, Barbara. Culture and Aging: An Anthropological Study of Older Americans, Springfield, Illinois, 1967
This article is excerpted and adapted from a talk given at a day of recollection for the elderly at Madonna House on January 27, 2018.
The author is a physician and deacon who lives near Combermere. He taught geriatrics for 6 years at Queen’s University, did research in aging and retirement, and cared for many elderly patients in nursing homes in Kingston. He has a fellowship in the American Geriatrics Society.