A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Growing Old Together

By Fr Kevin
Bates sm

It’s pension day, and you’ve had to slip over to the supermarket to get a few items for dinner. You get there and the place is choc-full of ancients, their walkers and their seemingly complete lack of shopping etiquette! They block the aisles both ways, seemingly impervious to each other and certainly to you as you race from one lot of specials to the next!

You’re out on the road and you are stuck behind a driver who surely once drove a Model T Ford! Their vehicle, though new and shiny in appearance, seems to be locked in first gear with a top speed similar to that of the Model T. Every approaching vehicle is an occasion for sudden braking and every corner is an occasion for careful reflection before any action takes place.

You are sitting in a café and the old people at the next table are talking very loudly as most of them have hearing aids and they seem to imagine that their friends can’t hear unless they transmit at top volume.

You’re waiting to get into an elevator and are at the end of a small queue. In front of you, blocking your path, an old couple argue about whether to take the lift or go to the nearby café for a coffee and some lunch. You miss your ride!

In all these instances you see yourself and your patterns of shopping, driving, speaking in public and lift-entering as being the norm which everyone else ought to follow!

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement in 2016 was “A Place at the Table – Social Justice in an Ageing Society.”

We normally associate Social Justice with issues pertaining to the Homeless, Refugees, Unemployed people and so on. The Bishops are inviting us to look in a different direction this year and to consider the ways in which we respond to and treat the elderly among us.

While occasionally the elderly press the patient/impatient buttons that we all carry, there is far more to their presence. 

In old age, people have time to tell stories that enlighten, heal and amuse. They can call on memories that often form the foundations of our own stories.

In old age, people can model great patience as their bodies fail them, as their children and grand-children depart from values that they considered sacred.

Elderly people have survived tragedy, failure, sadness of all kinds and have learnt a certain wisdom if they have suffered well and thoughtfully.

Of course if they haven’t learnt from these experiences, they will have less to offer in their old age and will probably become the same cranky old people as the cranky young people they used to be!

In old age, people think about approaching death more readily and in this, are a great grace for the rest of us. They reflect and entrust themselves to whatever it is God has in mind and their gift to the rest of us here, is truly prophetic in the midst of our busy lives.

While old age is certainly not for wimps and cowards, given declining health and lessening capacities it brings, old age could well find us at our very best because of all we have heard, seen and learnt along the way.

An old person with a young heart is a precious presence among us and can often pull us up short when we are being a bit too important, urgent and impatient.

Along with the rest of the Church, we pray for the elderly in our society. May they be respected to the very end of their days. Our throw-away society uses euphemisms such as ‘assisted dying,’ which while seeming compassionate, mask our desire to be in control of things that are more properly left in God’s hands.

As an old song has it: “Let's grow old together.”

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