December 22, 2021

In this issue

Christmas Greetings from Our Passionist Family
Passionists and Aging

By Fr. Donald Senior, C.P.
President Emeritus and Chancellor of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago (CTU), where he is also a member of the faculty as Professor of New Testament.
The following was excerpted from the Winter 2021 "Engaging Aging" newsletter from the National Religious Retirement Office. The full article and newsletter can be downloaded from the NRRO website. [PDF]

In his book Let us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis reflects on the impact of the pandemic and how we might respond as followers of Jesus. The Pope uses the classical Catholic social action process - “Observe, Judge, Act” - as a way of analyzing what the world is experiencing, but translates these terms into his own phrasing of “contemplate,” “discern,” and “propose.” The term “contemplate” for the Pope means both looking deeply into reality to discover the truth and listening intently to the voices of those around us, particularly the voices that are often marginalized and ignored. “This is,” he notes, “a time for integrity, for exposing the selective morality of ideology, and for embracing the full implications of what it means to be children of God.” (p. 35)...

The Pandemic and the Elderly
Among the “signs of the times” (another classic biblical phrase the Pope invokes) that such contemplation reveals is “the exclusion and isolation of the elderly.” (p. 58) A substantial number of those who died from COVID-19 were residents of nursing homes. In many cases, the vulnerability of the elderly to the threat of the pandemic was not just because of their age and physical condition but was linked to the deplorable state of the institutions in which they were housed: “underfunded, neglected, dependent on a high turnover of poorly paid workers.” The ideals of our faith and Scriptures are a strong challenge to such neglect. A famous passage from the prophet Joel cited by Peter at the first Pentecost foresees a future in which God will pour out the Spirit on the people and “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28) Ideally, the elderly are to be cherished within our families; their wisdom and contributions honored.

The Bible’s wisdom literature such as Sirach and Proverbs speak frequently of the need to respect the elderly and to treat them with special care and consideration. A famous passage from chapter 3 of the Book of Sirach (NRSV translation) counsels respect and care for one’s parents, including when they are elderly:
Children, listen to me, your father; act accordingly, that you may be safe. For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children and confirms a mother’s authority over her sons. Those who honor their father atone for sins; they store up riches who respect their mother. Those who honor their father will have joy in their own children, and when they pray they are heard. Those who respect their father will live a long life; those who obey the Lord honor their mother. My son, be steadfast in honoring your father; do not grieve him as long as he lives. Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him; do not revile him because you are in your prime. Kindness to a father will not be forgotten; it will serve as a sin offering - it will take lasting root. In time of trouble it will be recalled to your advantage, like warmth upon frost it will melt away your sins. Those who neglect their father are like blasphemers; those who provoke their mother are accursed by their Creator.

Paul the Apostle proposes similar advice to Timothy, writing as an older and experienced missionary to his younger associate: “Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters with complete purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

It is interesting that the Bible refers to “retirement” only once, recommending the retirement of the priests from their temple service at age 50 so that younger priests may have an opportunity to exercise their roles (see Numbers 8:25). Otherwise, the Bible assumes that the elderly remain an integral part of society, not withdrawing from a productive life within the extended family (where most industry took place) but adapting their evolving role to the requirements of their age and strength. In fact, most ancient societies - not just in the biblical world - revered what was “old:” ancient traditions, ancient religious practices, and ancient people, an attitude difficult to retain in the more production and consumer-oriented society that characterizes modern western civilization. “Retirement” as a widespread social practice seems to have developed in the industrial age when younger (and less paid) workers replaced older ones. Coupled with the focus on the nuclear family and less involvement with the extended family, many “retired” workers found themselves “warehoused,” without any meaningful role in society and personally unprepared for a life of inactivity.

Pope Francis remarks that the destruction wreaked on the elderly by the pandemic should be a prophetic sign of the times for us, leading us to “find out who are the lonely elderly nearby, and how with others I could offer them friendship. Or I might want to ensure that care homes are as much like families as possible, well-funded and embedded in community. At a deeper level, we may wonder how we ended up in this situation, under pressure from jobs and families who convince people they cannot have the elderly living with them.” (p. 59) Seeing reality in a new way, the Pope asserts, can be a “sign from God,” prompting us to respond with the depth that only the Holy Spirit can give us. 

Read the full article by downloading the newsletter from the NRRO website.


The Vision Fulfillment newsletter will return January 13. 
“Celebrate the feast of Christmas every day, even every moment in the interior temple of your spirit, remaining like a baby in the bosom of the heavenly Father, where you will be reborn each moment in the Divine Word, Jesus Christ.”
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