Aging in happiness: at 80, could still one’s greatest joys lie ahead?

Notre société a tendance à considérer les personnes âgées comme inefficaces, voire comme des « déchets », comme l’affirme le pape François. Dans ce contexte, peut-on vieillir dans la joie ? A 80 ans, nos plus belles joies sont-elles devant nous ? Réponse de sœur Cécile pour RCF Orne-Calvados-Manche.

Our society tends to view the elderly as ineffective, even as “waste,” like Pope Francis often remarked. In such a context, can one grow old and happy? When 80, could still one’s greatest joys lie ahead? Answers by Sr. Cecilia for RCF Catholic Radio.

Can we grow old and in joy?

Old age can be a bountiful and beautiful time in one’s life, but also a difficult period as one has to face diminishing abilities, at physical or at psychological level.

Old age, being the last leg of one’s pilgrimage on earth, with the prospect of death and the eminent encounter with the Lord, confronts the elderly with a challenge: that of truth and of increasing authenticity.

For an elderly person, it means coming to terms with age and pondering on the manner she will undergo this stage of life and what significance she wants to give it. It can be a most fruitful period, sometimes even more so than at any time of one’s life so far. The person might wonder how she will impart her personal spiritual and human heritage that she will undoubtedly leave after she has gone; how to pass it on to children and grandchildren?

By her witnessing to life, the elderly person is like an open-book, offered to all who will remain after she has departed.

What has the elderly to offer given the context of efficiency whereby our society associates the elderly to little value?

Old age is the time for examining one’s life. A time for recalling and thanksgiving for all the joys of the past; it is also a time to impart to the younger generation for the elderly would have gone through trials and held on.

Pope Francis speaks out against the widespread suggestion in our western world that the elderly are not worth much due to their no longer being worthwhile. Yet, while young people badly need witnesses, the elderly can witness to their own experience of overcoming life’s trials. Such fullness is priceless!

For an elderly person, as well as for people facing imminent death, present time takes on added significance. The joys of everyday life and in relationships are experienced with greater intensity. Therefore, old age is a period in life to foster. It can sometimes be demanding because one is put to the test by one’s body, sometimes that of one’s psyche, with a diminishing memory. It is not at all comfortable because the elderly person is at the same time well anchored in the actuality of her life which she perhaps experiences in a more intense manner and, at the same time, in a period of letting go which, to a certain extend, gives rise to sadness.

Can old age be beneficial to get at long last to know oneself?  

Old age is the time when we learn to not do, a time to let go and therefore, a time for “being”. It’s not easy. Our society advocates apparence and constantly comes up with new ways to remain looking young. Yet the beauty of an elderly person is within.

I used to be a nurse and I saw the face of elderly people become more and more beautiful. It might be to a greater simplicity.

The face of some elderly people mirrors the beauty of their heart. Sometimes one can see the light of God reflecting on the wrinkled up face of elderly monks who have spent the whole of their life in prayer. I recall the wrinkled but radiant face of Sister Emmanuelle of Cairo, all the joy she had imparted shone through. For sure, the face of the elderly are so beautiful!

Refusing the degradation of one’s abilities and of entering the stage of the “just being” can represent a true struggle for an elderly person. Nowadays many people say that, since the body and sometimes the mind undergo degradation, life is no longer worth living. However, this is missing out on all the richness of transmission. An elderly person witnessing to her undergoing courageously old age and yet entrusting to our hearts all the “living” that is in hers is most valuable.

At 80, could one’s greatest joys still lie ahead?

Old age is propitious to reflecting about Heaven and the reward that awaits us. However, the passage beforehand can frighten. It may represent a tedious perspective but it also holds in the backdrop that of eternity. In one of his most beautiful catecheses on old age, Pope Francis refered to it as the “novitiate of Heaven”. In the word “novitiate” you have “new”. Thus it means we become a new person. It’s like a time of preparation, of betrothal with the Eternal Father. “I am getting old but the best lies ahead of me: that is Heaven.”

The Pope even spoke of trepidation. Old age being a bit like the great Advent Season of eternal life. In the period of Advent you find this notion of joy, of a people in great expectation, awaiting the upcoming Messiah. “The crossing over”, a loved one told me, “scares me but the judgement, less and less.  Thanks to St. Faustina and to St. Teresa (of Lisieux) I know that the first thing I will encounter after I pass over is mercy. Mercy precedes justice.” This loved one is able to say so today, further to having gone through a long stretch in life, he might no have made the same statement thirty years ago.

Moreover old age is a period of time for intensifying one’s spiritual life. It is a most important message to convey to the elderly people. In the past, the topic of preparing for death was much addressed. Nowadays, it is kept under silence and yet it is very essential.  “The best place I can aspire to”, added my loved one, ” is that of the prodigal son in the Father’s arms.” That is his prospect. This person has been reflecting upon eternal life.

“For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” thus stated Saint Paul. What a beautiful expression, full of hope for our brothers and sisters of great age! They may keep it in their heart and reflect on the place they assign to their inner selves. Old age is the period of life for one’s inner self to blossom.

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