a photo of Catherine in her later years by Fr. Heber de Lima

Now That I Am Old

by Catherine Doherty

I feel closed in. I have reached the age where people hem me in on all sides. I am not free anymore.

In many ways I cannot dispose of myself. Everything in me seems to be tied up. I walk with small steps. I used to be able to walk out into the woods and see many kinds of landscapes. I roamed up and down mountains and valleys. I was free. I used to be able to take an airplane and go to Europe. But now I feel all bound up.

When you are older you will stretch out your hands, and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will (John 21:18).

When we are young, it never occurs to us that tomorrow or the day after, our steps will falter, that we will be too weak to do what we would like.

And yet, I think this “unfreedom” of old age is also an entry into the silence of God.

God offers us many silences: the silence of babyhood, of childhood, of youth and maturity, and finally the silence of old age, with its accompanying lack of exterior freedom. My own heart must learn to accept this lack of freedom.

People undoubtedly say about me, “She’s old now. She can’t do this and she can’t do that.”

This is good, because now I enter a new depth of silence, and the very essence of poverty, for which I have so longed.

Now, a new freedom has come into my soul. Yes, I am more bound in some ways, but I am also more free.

The earth is becoming a narrow sliver, of no more importance. Heaven is opening before me. This is the goal I always wanted to attain. No wonder earthly landscapes pass out of view. God has given me a new key to the landscape of his heart, and nobody can stop me from entering it.

Oh, people can herd me into this or that place. But, ah, they cannot tame my wild and immense spirit, which needs no other landscape than the heart of God.

Here we are together, he and I. He, too, is bound. Bound with nails. They hurt much more than the soft bandages that are used to bind me. Perhaps he binds me so as to keep me close to him.

When I feel myself bound, a window is always left open to me, and I can go and lose myself in God.

As I prayed today, my whole life passed before me.

My parents allowed me to be free, but within a strict discipline of love and understanding. All through my growing up, I became more free but never completely free from bonds.

I fell in love with God, and when you are in love with God, there is full freedom, provided you do what he wants you to do.

Thus, surrounding me all my life was this strange lack of freedom on the one hand, and a total freedom on the other.

I passed from the simple life of a child to that of an adult, and thence to the life of an older person who submitted herself voluntarily to the discipline of God, as expressed by people in charge of me, in one way or another.

I would have to say that, in general, I have been an exceedingly obedient person. Oh, I wasn’t perfectly obedient. Far from it! But nevertheless, I can say that I was an obedient person.

Now I have reached my eighties. People in their eighties usually are not obedient to anyone! But I feel that obedience is still at my side and I am under the supreme obedience of the Lord.

My time now is God’s time. I have an intense desire to pray and to fast. Yet I know that neither fasting nor prayer is the most important thing, but rather to be a prayer, and to go about the world doing good to mankind as long as I possibly can, as long as my fingers can move and my mind is clear.

Thus, while I feel bound by my lack of freedom in my old age (something like the swaddling clothes I had on as a baby), I am beginning to realize that this is being done by God.

He looked down on me and saw a lot of “insects” that still needed to be killed—the insect of pride, the insect of desiring to be free in the wrong way. He put his hand on these insects and they died.

Who are these people binding me? Everybody in my apostolic family. Oh yes, they are doing it out of love, but still it is hard. It is thus that the Lord prepares the infant, in her old age, to enter the kingdom of heaven.

I am lost in the tenderness of God. It is a very wonderful thing that a human being can be filled with, and encompassed by, the tenderness of God.

His tenderness is always there. But there are so many things that draw our attention away from God that his tenderness towards us often passes unnoticed.

But when you have entered the great silence of God, everything changes. All that mattered yesterday does not seem to matter so much today.

In fact, one looks for a moment at the past and wonders how it was possible that one’s attention could focus so absorbingly on the utterly unimportant things that make up the warp and woof of our lives.

Now, clothed with patience, which is part of God’s love for us, we sit very still. On the table before us lies the wool cloth, as it were, of our lives. Here, on this corner of the table, lies death. All our lives we were so afraid of it. But why? Probably because most people consider it to be the end.

Their fear of death is overwhelming. The fact that we shall lose our hold on existence as we know it terrifies the majority of us. But for the few who have warmed their souls on the silver sands and have plunged into the infinity of God’s immense sea of silence, death no longer terrifies.

The Lord wants us to love as he loved, so he made us his children and heirs. To those who want to see with the eyes of faith, he reveals the truth about death.

Physical death is not the end. After death we shall enter into true life, eternity, where we will be with God and we can really be ourselves.

Won’t that be wonderful!

Excerpted and adapted from Molchanie (1991), pp. 83-88, available from MH Publications.