47. The Gifts and Challenges of Old Age

Read by Br. Jack Crowley

Tradition records that the beloved disciple lived to a great age.  We who belong to a com­munity named after him are called to be appreciative of the gifts that come to maturity in old age, and also sensitive to the needs and struggles that accompany it.

We pray that seeds planted in many years of faithful life will bear fruit in old age.  Our older brothers will then be able to contribute their experience of what is essential in our life with God, a sense of perspective, wisdom, their appreciation for the community and joy in the younger members. The elders of the community are to be honored as the bearers of our corporate memory who link us with our past.  Some of us will even reach our prime in old age, discovering new gifts and continuing in active in ministry informed by long experience.

We grieve to see the old so commonly neglected and discounted in the world around us.  The way we honor and cherish one another in advancing years can be a powerful witness against this sinful failure.  Our valuing of elderly brothers becomes particularly important when the limitations of old age prevent them from participating very fully in our active ministries.  We need to ensure that the spirituality of the community, expressed in our teaching, conversation and actions, affirms the intrinsic worth of every member and emphasizes the contributions that the elders make through their prayer and perseverance.  Unless there is this climate of support, an older brother may give way to discouragement, or have difficulty in accepting a role in the community with fewer responsibilities and restricted opportunities.

Our closing years of earthly life may bring new challenges in the spiritual combat.  It is humbling to grow more dependent on the care of others.  It is hard to cooperate with the Spirit and overcome our natural tendency to deny our decreasing strength and the approach of death.  As we grow older we may become more vulnerable to attacks of despair in which our sense of the meaning and value of all that has gone before will seem to drain away.  The Holy Spirit may compel us to deal with issues, doubts and wounds that we avoided when we were more vigorous.  Those challenges will prepare us further for our final surrender into the arms of God through our death.  In all these struggles the grace of Christ will never fail us.

One of the hardest tests comes if the need for professional nursing means that a brother has to be cared for outside the community.  This separation will call on the deepest resources of accept­ance and trust in the brother who has to move away.  All of us must do everything in our power to sustain his sense of connectedness with the community.

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