Pope Francis is old enough to be a grandfather, and he identifies with grandparents. “When I was in the Philippines, the people called me ‘Lolo Kiko,' or rather, 'Grandpa Francis,'” he said to his March 11 Papal Audience.
Unlike our culture that often marginalizes the grandparent generation, the Lord does not ignore the elderly. Instead, he calls us to follow him in all stages of life as old age too “contains a grace and a mission, a true vocation.”
This period of life is different to those that preceded it, without doubt; we must also reinvent it a little since our societies are not yet ready spiritually or morally to accord it its full value. Previously, in fact, it was not normal to have so much free time; today far more so. And even Christian spirituality has been taken a little by surprise, and has had to delineate spirituality for the elderly. But thanks to God there is no lack of testimonies from elderly saints!
Poets of prayer
Citing the important role of Simeon and Anna when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, the Pope addressed grandparents and the elderly.
Let us follow in the wake of these extraordinary old people! Let us too become poets of prayer. Let us acquire the taste for seeking new words, reappropriating those that the Word of God teaches us. The prayer of grandparents and the elderly is a great gift for the Church. It is a great injection of wisdom for all society, especially for those who are too busy, too encumbered, too distracted. Someone has to sing the signs of God for these people too, to proclaim the signs of God.
Although medical care allows more elderly people to live longer, our consumerism culture fails to give them the respect and care due them because of their fragility and dignity. “When we are young, we are induced to ignore old age, as if it were an illness to keep at bay,” he said March 4. “However, once we become old, especially if we are poor, ill and alone, we experience the gaps in a society programmed for efficiency, which as a consequence ignores the elderly.”
Reflections of our limits
Pope Francis tried to awaken a collective sense of gratitude towards grandparents and the elderly. He quoted Benedict XVI, “The quality of a society … is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life. . . A civilization can sustain itself if it respects wisdom, the wisdom of the elderly. On the contrary, a civilization in which there is no place for the elderly or in which they are discarded because they create problems … carries the virus of death.”
Pope Francis noted, “The elderly are abandoned, and not only to material precariousness. They are abandoned as a result of our selfish inability to accept their limits, which reflect our own limits.” He reminded us “the elderly person is not an alien. We are the elderly, sooner or later but in any case inevitably, even if we do not think about it.”
Pope Francis concluded his March 4 Papal Audience with:
Let us look at Benedict XVI, who has chosen to spend the final part of his life in prayer and in listening to God. Olivier Clement, a great believer from the last century, of Orthodox tradition, said, “A civilization where one does not pray is a civilization in which old age no longer has any meaning.” And this is terrifying. More than anything we need the elderly who pray, because old age was given to us for this.
A permanent choir of support
The Pope encouraged his grandparent generation by saying, "We are able to:
- Thank the Lord for the favors received
- Fill the emptiness of ingratitude that surrounds us
- Intercede for the expectations of the new generations
- Give dignity to the memory and sacrifices of those past
- Remind the ambitious young that a life without love is arid
- Say to the fearful young that anguish about the future can be defeated
- Teach the young who are too wrapped up in themselves that there is more joy in giving than in receiving”
Grandparents form the permanent 'choir' of a great spiritual shrine, where prayer of supplication and hymns of praise support the community that works and struggles in the field of life.
(Quotes from Vatican Information Service March 4 and 11, 2015)