“As Christians, we bear the responsibility…to love and protect the most vulnerable in our midst: the unborn, migrants and refugees, victims of racial injustice, the sick and the elderly.” - The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, n. 38
When I met my father-in-law thirty-five years ago, one of his great loves was swimming in the ocean. In fact, there was a time when he would fish for sea bass with the aid of his snorkel, goggles, flippers, and speargun—looking like Neptune himself.
Today, my father-in-law can no longer walk. He remains as strong-willed and sui generis as ever. A motorized scooter enables him to navigate through his daily schedule. But, regardless of how hard he pushes back with regular daily exercise, his physical mobility continues to decline. My mother-in-law stands nearby as his lifelong and faithful spouse, assisting with day-to-day challenges. My wife and her two sisters provide regular support, using their complementary talents to assist in various ways. This is a challenging path that many have had to traverse, and there are certainly more difficult days to come.
I have recently been wondering what Jesus’ view of the aging process is—particularly in light of his Passion and death on the Cross. After announcing, “Behold the man” (Jn 19:5), Pilate presents our bruised, battered, and belittled Lord. Such “beholding” has the potential to transform how we encounter those who are suffering in various ways, particularly the elderly. Moreover, at Mass, we are invited to “Behold the Lamb of God.” This moment of “beholding” brings us face-to-face with the Wounded Healer—crucified, risen, and truly and really present before us—and it has the potential to open our eyes anew when we are with those who are aging.
Indeed, I think Jesus has a particular affinity for those who are elderly as they endure diminishments and death-to-self on so many levels. Despite the widespread suffering which afflicts the unborn and their mothers, migrants and refugees, as well as victims of systemic racism, the Lord does not want those who are sick and/or elderly to be overlooked and left behind. Without distancing ourselves from the other pressing issues of the day, it is worth remembering that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us precisely because we were all in need of healing.
Jesus never grew old, of course. But the God-Man spent the final hours before his death virtually immobilized. He could only turn his head, gaze upon his faithful few, and speak a handful of timeless words. These words evoke words that might be more common or even more appreciated among the elderly: words of tender mercy, “Father, forgive them…”; words of acknowledgment for those who stood at his side, “Behold your mother…”; words of prayerful surrender, “It is finished . . . Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
Indirectly, I think the Risen Lord also speaks a word to the elderly when he tells St. Peter: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:18). This pointed to Peter’s unique moment of death, but there’s quite a universal message as well.
My father-in-law has traded his speargun for his scooter, but he still loves sneaking treats to his dog. My mother-in-law has embraced the shift from being an educational leader to a primary caregiver. My wife and her sisters continue to bring joy to their parents, and updates from grandchildren far and wide remain as priceless as ever. But no one chose this path.
Yet Jesus turns and looks at this scene, reminiscent of so many similar stories, and he responds with the same words spoken to Peter: “Follow me” (Jn 21:19). When the elderly allow others to assist them, and when family members and friends accompany those who are aging, new opportunities for Christian witness emerge. And the Morning Offering is lived out anew: “. . . I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.”
1) When I am sick, do I find it difficult to allow others to help me? Why might this be, and what might Jesus’ perspective on this be?
2) Do I find it difficult to visit those who are elderly? If so, why, and how might I find new ways to think about this?
In response to the Gospel challenge to visit the sick, ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to a family member, friend, or neighbor who is in need of a visit. Then consider how best to make it happen: In-person is always best—perhaps with some food. But if distance is an issue, consider scheduling a call (our family has benefitted greatly from regular video calls!).
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.