Saturday, May 09, 2020


Any writer knows the experience of when words flow; the same with composers and the music, artists and the brush strokes on the canvas, homilists when the words of Sunday’s Readings are so luminous the homily is like a polished gem. Then, there are times when the essay appears finished, the last note has been inserted in the melody, the final stroke of paint applied to the canvas, the homily is being preached and suddenly the interior voice shouts: REALLY! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Recently I have noted in phone calls, email, snail mail from people in my age group, I am turning 76 this year, a level of fear, actual terror among some ending up in a nursing home or even terrified to go to emergency at a hospital, an understandable fear, in these dark days, among the most vulnerable of ending up dead. Not just dying but doing so alone.
So, I started writing about the particular fear and isolation of the elderly, researching from various sources and countries the death rate among the elderly, be they in care homes or hospitals and how various countries are dealing with, because often it is indeed dealing with, rather than caring for, the elderly.

When doing research before writing, and when needing a break from intense writing, one diversion is to visit sites like the Hubble Telescope and see the beauty of the stars. The other day I was contemplating a bright star circling a black hole and two things struck: 1] with decades of abortion we have murdered, consigned to the black hole of unlived history, uniqueness of personhood of innumerable pre-born human beings and thus eliminating as well the potential, for example, of some becoming scientists who, if living among us today, would likely already have either prevented the pandemic or discovered the needed vaccine; 2] with the disproportionate death toll among the elderly again uniqueness of personhood and of critical cultural, historical, faith, life memories, are being sucked into the black hole of forgetfulness.

That was when I went off track, failed to listen to my heart, to grace and wrote emotionally so when proof reading what I believed was the essay ready for posting my heart yelled at me: REALLY! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? So, as the saying goes, back to the drawing board which for this priest-hermit means silent prayer, swimming in the seas of the Divine Offices, Holy Mass, Sacred Scripture, spiritual reading until the mud of ego is washed away and the Holy Spirit has a clean slate to compose upon so that I write words from Him poured into my heart in the common language of the children of God: love.

In these fearful days, the challenge for each one of us is, in any creative way we can, to love and support each other, to proclaim hope and strength to each other, which means abandoning the culture of egocentrism and, in imitation of Christ, being other centered.
During the days of the above I was graced to realize I lack understanding, true understanding of self, faith, of the current situation and so I have been graced in silence to re-discover this gift of the Holy Spirit first in a treasured tome, THE SANCTIFIER, a tremendous volume on the Holy Spirit, His sanctifying action, gifts, and insight; also through one of many letters St. John Paul wrote, the one TO THE ELDERLY, by then himself also elderly He addresses us, as “…my elderly brothers and sisters.” [2]

In a special way, the gift of understanding supposes the knowledge, the perfect comprehension, of our end. [1] Our end of course, the whole reason of our being created as persons in the image and likeness of God, the whole purpose of the Incarnation, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the whole gift to us in Baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier Himself, Who teaches us to trust Jesus: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be.” [Jn.14:1-3]

Likewise, when we have a perfect knowledge of our end, our will is bound to it, for essentially we already possess that ultimate end by possessing God in our heart. This is the work of the gift of understanding; by it the Holy Spirit moves us so that we can penetrate the depths of all supernatural truths and thus attain our eternal salvation. [2] This happens IF we strive to be faithful to: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” [Mt.16:24]

Understanding is one of the gifts of contemplation…..One might say that contemplation is the very beautiful light of those who love……[3] Again, this presupposes fidelity as disciples of Christ who assures us: …. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, then you will also know my Father…….If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows It. But you know It, because It remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” [Jn.14:6,7 & 15-18]

Every day let us say to the Lord, as did Bartimaeus, the blind man of the Gospel: Lord, that I may see! [4] Striving with our intellects, overloading our brains with the ceaseless and often contradictory news about the virus itself, the extent of the pandemic, etc., etc., by our own efforts assures we will be overwhelmed. It is the Holy Spirit Who graces us to understand and embrace, in union with Christ, this current heavy weight, the sharing of Christ’s Cross as faithful disciples, as we cry out: Lord, that I may see: see the hope, which is all around us, see the love which embraces us, see the opportunities to refrain being bent towards ourselves and choosing to reach out to others with love, compassion, hope, understanding, being as Christ names us:… the light of the world……. your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. [Mt:5: 14 & 16]

Without commentary these words of wisdom from St. John Paul addressed to the Elderly, a gift to everyone. [2]

Human experience, although subject to time, is set by Christ against the horizon of immortality. He “became a man among men, in order to join the beginning to the end, man to God”…… Old age is the final stage of human maturity and a sign of God's blessing…….In the past, great respect was shown to the elderly. “Great was once the reverence given to a hoary head”, says Ovid, the Latin poet…. Centuries earlier, the Greek poet Phocylides had admonished: “Respect grey hair: give to the elderly sage the same signs of respect that you give your own father”……. And what of today? If we stop to consider the current situation, we see that among some peoples old age is esteemed and valued, while among others this is much less the case, due to a mentality which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity. Such an attitude frequently leads to contempt for the later years of life, while older people themselves are led to wonder whether their lives are still worthwhile……“Rise in the presence of one with grey hair; honour the person of the older man” (Lev 19:32). Honouring older people involves a threefold duty: welcoming them, helping them and making good use of their qualities. In many places this happens almost spontaneously, as the result of long-standing custom. Elsewhere, and especially in the more economically advanced nations, there needs to be a reversal of the current trend, to ensure that elderly people can grow old with dignity, without having to fear that they will end up no longer counting for anything. There must be a growing conviction that a fully human civilization shows respect and love for the elderly, so that despite their diminishing strength they feel a vital part of society. Cicero himself noted that “the burden of age is lighter for those who feel respected and loved by the young”…… Dear elderly friends who feel insecure because of ill health or other circumstances, I assure you of my closeness and affection. When God permits us to suffer because of illness, loneliness or other reasons associated with old age, he always gives us the grace and strength to unite ourselves with greater love to the sacrifice of his Son and to share ever more fully in his plan of salvation. Let us be convinced of this: he is our Father, a Father rich in love and mercy!.... Christ, having crossed the threshold of death, has revealed the life which lies beyond this frontier, in that uncharted “territory” which is eternity. He is the first witness of eternal life; in him human hope is shown to be filled with immortality. “The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality”…… In Christ, death — tragic and disconcerting as it is — is redeemed and transformed; it is even revealed as a “sister” who leads us to the arms of our Father……earthly life is not the ultimate value, in such a way that the twilight of life can be seen — from a Christian perspective — as a “passage”, a bridge between one life and another, between the fragile and uncertain joy of this earth to that fullness of joy which the Lord holds in store for his faithful servants: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25:21)…… “Iube me venire ad te!”*: this is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it. Grant, O Lord of life, that we may be ever vividly aware of this and that we may savour every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future. Grant that we may lovingly accept your will, and place ourselves each day in your merciful hands. And when the moment of our definitive “passage” comes, grant that we may face it with serenity, without regret for what we shall leave behind. For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long, we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth, in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope. Mary, Mother of pilgrim humanity, pray for us “now and at the hour of our death”. Keep us ever close to Jesus, your beloved Son and our brother, the Lord of life and glory.

Nota Bene: Tomorrow being Mothers’ Day let us all be lovingly creative, if our Moms are in nursing a home out of reach of personal visits, or if they live with us, to express our love and gratitude for the gift they are and let us not forget to be grateful for Her loving protection for us to the Most Holy Theotokos, Mother of everyone.

[1] The Sanctifier; Most Rev. Luis M. Martinez; p.177; [2] op. cit. p. 178; [3] ibid p. 180; [4] ibid p. 184; St. Paul Editions, 1982
NB: Excerpts are from paras: 2, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18 * Bid me come to You!

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph

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