The clock ticks and moves only in one direction. All of us are one year older than last year and one day older than yesterday. Every second that ticks we are closer to our death toll as well as the Day of Judgment. Nobody can escape!
A Gallup Poll came up with a new finding that can be applied universally: everybody living this day will no longer be living someday, some minute, some second. The famous American novelist, Ernest Hemmingway, put it succinctly: “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; the bell tolls for you.” As another poet put it: “Time is of the essence.”
Let us address in this brief essay the topic of the elderly, those up in years, and those who have reached the golden years of their earthly existence. The message will be very simply, how we can help the elderly as they grow in years, at the same time that they may grow in graciousness, wisdom and holiness.
Culture of Death and the Gospel of Life. Blessed Pope John Paul II in his immortal encyclical “Gospel of Life” divides the world in two categories: those who favor and promote life, “The Gospel of Life”; and those who promote evil and death, “The Culture of death”. You might even term this in modern simplicity—Christ in opposition to Satan.
Forces adamantly opposed to human life exert their energies and launch their nets far and wide. Abortion has been institutionalized in our society since Roe vs. Wade, Jan 22, 1973—thereby legalizing the killing of innocent babies. On the other side of the spectrum there is a grass-root movement trying to eliminate the elderly and infirm.
Utilitarianism. This is a socio-economic and philosophical ideology that asserts that human life has value only inasmuch as it proves to be economically productive and prosperous. In other words, the more money you make, the more possessions you accumulate, the more collateral is yours the greater your value! Unfortunately this false system of values has permeated and contaminated the minds of many, all too many in our country! Therefore, the elderly and infirm in a society that embraces this philosophy should be discarded and buried as a burden to society. Beauty, brawn, brains and big-bucks—the “5 B’s” are the dominating feature of many in the American culture!
Jesus lived, taught and preached a philosophy diametrically opposed to Utilitarianism. Born in poverty of poor parents, working as a carpenter many years, living without any stable abode— “The foxes have their holes and the birds their nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”— Jesus taught: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall inherit the earth.”
This being the most noble of world-views, what can we do to foster in our lives the Gospel of life, specifically in our dealing with the elderly and infirm? Let us offer a few suggestions and try to live them out!
1. VISITATION OF THE ELDERLY! Pray right now to the Holy Spirit and beg Him for light to see who in the world that surrounds you could profit from your visit! The challenge is now! See if you can visit an elderly and sick person with advanced Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease (or both). This person may not recognize you. Equally challenging, this person may repeat the same story ten times in 18 minutes. You are challenged to smile, to be kind, to lend a listening ear, and to be compassionate and manifest loving interest! The most efficacious manner in which this can be carried out fruitfully is only if we have a supernatural viewpoint. If you like, reading and meditating Mt. 25: 31-46— the blue print for the corporal works of mercy. “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick…. And you did it for me…” In other words, this elderly and infirm person is not an anonymous and faceless nobody, a simple cog on a wheel! No! This person is Jesus Christ incarnate! As the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminded the world time and time again: “We must see the face of Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
2. PRAY FOR AND WITH THE ELDERLY. Easy it is to fall into the trap in deceiving ourselves in believing that all elderly people were trained in prayer, pray frequently and have a simple knack for prayer! Often it is the exact opposite. In a pagan, materialistic and secular societies many have never learned even the basics of prayer. What a huge act of charity indeed it could be to teach the elderly the art of prayer and simply to pray with them. Give the elderly—free of charge—a Rosary and Rosary pamphlet as well as a card on how to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Then guide them through the prayers and meditations. This simple gesture could be the turning point leading to the eternal salvation of their immortal souls. Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori emphasized the capital importance of prayer with these words quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “He who prays well will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned.” Profound words of immortal wisdom!
3. DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT SUFFERING, BUT OFFER IT UP! Two common characteristics of the elderly are that of suffering sicknesses and loneliness. Both entail suffering, and at times real, prolonged and intense suffering! Human suffering can either make us better or bitter. It all depends on our attitude towards the reality of suffering! Complaining, cursing, muttering under one’s breath about one’s suffering can easily transform the elderly person into a bitter, cantankerous, and venomous monster! We have all met them and could be one of them in the near future! These are those who have no understanding of suffering and no supernatural perspective of the value of suffering. In sum, they view suffering as a curse! On the other side of the coin, it is the elderly who has been trained in the school of the Holy Spirit to recognize that suffering can bring forth the most positive fruits. If suffering can be contemplated in the light of the Passion of Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, if suffering can be united with the sufferings of Jesus, if their suffering can be placed on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and willingly accepted, then and only then will this suffering have positive and redemptive value. That is to say this suffering will make us better and not bitter!
In conclusion, the Gospel of life extends from the unborn child in the womb of the mother to the elderly 95 year old person suffering from Alzheimer and Parkinson’s (maybe both). We indeed can make a huge difference in the lives of these precious individuals. We can instill in their last years, months, days, hours their great dignity as persons; we can introduce them to God through prayer. Finally we can teach them the salvific meaning of suffering, helping to unite their crosses to the cross of Jesus. In sum, we can help them to end their lives by growing in years, but also growing in wisdom, age and grace before God and man!