In his Message for the Second World Day of Prayer for Grandparents and Elderly, Pope Francis encourages the elderly to persevere in hope and reminds them of their great power to transform the world through prayer and tenderness.
Pope Francis says aging is not a condemnation, but a blessing, and that even if society or our own frailties may tempt us to think otherwise, we are invaluable and God wants us to persevere in hope!
This encouragement was at the heart of the Message released Tuesday for the Second World Day of Prayer for Grandparents and the Elderly, which falls this year on 24 July.
The Church observes the World Day each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne.
Pope Francis instituted this World Day in 2021 since grandparents are often forgotten, but yet “are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.”
In this year’s message, the Pope drew largely upon his catecheses on old age, the family and St. Joseph.
Society implies the elderly are useless
The Pope recalled the Psalmist’s words that “In their old age they still bring forth fruit” (Ps 92:14). These words, the Pope said, are glad tidings and “a true “’gospel’” that we can proclaim, and which “run counter to what the world thinks about this stage of life…”
Many people are afraid of old age, the Pope said, recognizing they consider it “a sort of disease” with which any contact is best avoided. “The elderly, they think, are none of their concern and should be set apart, perhaps in homes or places where they can be cared for, lest we have to deal with their problems,” he lamented.
“This is the mindset of the ‘throw-away culture.’”
Even by those “of us” who are already experiencing old age, the 85-year-old Pope acknowledged, it is not a time of life easily understood. On one hand, the Pope said, we are tempted to ward off old age and preserve our youth, “while on the other, we imagine that the only thing we can do is bide our time, thinking glumly that we cannot ‘still bring forth fruit.”’
He notes that retirement and grown children make many things that used to occupy the elderly’s time and energy no longer so pressing, while diminishing strength and the onset of sickness leave us feeling uncertain.
“The fast pace of the world – with which we struggle to keep up – seems to leave us no alternative but to implicitly accept the idea that we are useless,” he said.
Must persevere in hope
That same psalm, which meditates on how the Lord has been present at every stage of our lives, the Pope said, “urges us to persevere in hope.”
“Along with old age and white hairs, God continues to give us the gift of life and to keep us from being overcome by evil. If we trust in him, we will find the strength to praise Him still. We will come to see that growing old is more than the natural decline of the body or the inevitable passage of time, but the gift of a long life. Aging is not a condemnation, but a blessing!”
For this reason, the Pope said, we ought to take care of ourselves and remain active in our later years, also from a spiritual standpoint.
Pope Francis’ recommendations on how to stay active
The Pope then offered some suggestions on how to do so.
“We ought to cultivate our interior life through the assiduous reading of the word of God, daily prayer, reception of the sacraments and participation in the liturgy. In addition to our relationship with God, we should also cultivate our relationships with others: first of all, by showing affectionate concern for our families, our children and grandchildren, but also for the poor and those who suffer, by drawing near to them with practical assistance and our prayers.”
These things, the Pope said, “will help us not to feel like mere bystanders, sitting on our porches or looking out from our windows, as life goes on all around us.” Instead, “we should learn to discern everywhere the presence of the Lord,” the Holy Father said.
“Old age is no time to give up and lower the sails, but a season of enduring fruitfulness: a new mission awaits us and bids us look to the future.”
The Pope encouraged them to take an active role in the revolution of tenderness.
Grandparents’ prayers can transform a world in crises
Our world is passing through a time of trial and testing, beginning with the sudden, violent outbreak of the pandemic, and then by a war that is harming peace and development on a global scale. Nor is it a coincidence that war is returning to Europe at a time when the generation that experienced it in the last century is dying out.
These great crises risk anaesthetizing us to the reality of other “epidemics” and other widespread forms of violence that menace the human family and our common home. All this points to the need for a profound change, a conversion.
We grandparents and elderly people, the Pope stated, have a great responsibility: “to teach the women and men of our time to regard others with the same understanding and loving gaze with which we regard our own grandchildren.” Since the elderly have grown in humanity by caring for others, “now we can be teachers of a way of life that is peaceful and attentive to those in greatest need,” he said.
We have a responsibility to protect the world, the Pope insisted.
“Our grandparents,” he reminded, “held us in their arms and carried us on their knees; now is the time for us to carry on our own knees – with practical assistance or with prayer alone – not only our own grandchildren but also the many frightened grandchildren whom we have not yet met and who may be fleeing from war or suffering its effects,” he said.
“Let us hold in our hearts – like Saint Joseph, who was a loving and attentive father – the little ones of Ukraine, of Afghanistan, of South Sudan…”
Enduring ‘chorus’ of a great spiritual sanctuary
Many of us have come to a sage and humble realization of what our world very much needs: the recognition that we are not saved alone, and that happiness is bread we break together.
“Dear grandparents, dear elderly persons, we are called to be artisans of the revolution of tenderness in our world! Let us do so by learning to make ever more frequent and better use of the most valuable instrument at our disposal and, indeed, the one best suited to our age: prayer.”
The Pope encouraged the elderly to be “poets of prayer,” stressing, “Our trustful prayer can do a great deal: it can accompany the cry of pain of those who suffer, and it can help change hearts.”
Pope Francis invited them to join him in being “the enduring ‘chorus’ of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise sustain the community that toils and struggles in the field of life.”
Living the World Day concretely
The World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, the Pope said, “is an opportunity to proclaim once more, with joy, that the Church wants to celebrate together with all those whom the Lord – in the words of the Bible – has ‘filled with days.'”
“Let us celebrate it together!” he said.
“I ask you to make this Day known in your parishes and communities; to seek out those elderly persons who feel most alone, at home or in residences where they live. Let us make sure that no one feels alone on this day. Expecting a visit can transform those days when we think we have nothing to look forward to; from an initial encounter, a new friendship can emerge. Visiting the elderly who live alone is a work of mercy in our time!”
The Pope concluded his message for World Day with an invitation to pray to the Blessed Mother.
“Let us ask Our Lady, Mother of Tender Love, to make all of us artisans of the ‘revolution of tenderness,’ so that together we can set the world free from the spectre of loneliness and the demon of war.”
The Holy Father gave his blessing, reassured his closeness and affection, and reminded them not to forget to pray for him.
With thanks to Vatican News and Deborah Castellano Lubov, where this article originally appeared.