Older people as a blessing for society
- Created on Monday, 31 October 2011 12:58
As we close this month dedicated to Respect for Life, it seems fitting to call to mind the words of Pope Benedict XVI at our home in London last year:
As advances in medicine and other factors lead to increased longevity, it is important to recognize the presence of growing numbers of older people as a blessing for society. Every generation can learn from the experience and wisdom of the generation that preceded it. Indeed the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude.
For her part, the Church has always had great respect for the elderly. The Fourth Commandment, “Honour your father and your mother as the Lord your God commanded you” (Deut 5:16), is linked to the promise, “that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Deut 5:16). This work of the Church for the aging and infirm not only provides love and care for them, but is also rewarded by God with the blessings he promises on the land where this commandment is observed. God wills a proper respect for the dignity and worth, the health and well-being of the elderly and, through her charitable institutions in Britain and beyond, the Church seeks to fulfill the Lord’s command to respect life, regardless of age or circumstances.
At the very start of my pontificate I said, “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Homily at the Mass for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, 24 April 2005). Life is a unique gift, at every stage from conception until natural death, and it is God’s alone to give and to take. One may enjoy good health in old age; but equally Christians should not be afraid to share in the suffering of Christ, if God wills that we struggle with infirmity. My predecessor, the late Pope John Paul, suffered very publicly during the last years of his life. It was clear to all of us that he did so in union with the sufferings of our Saviour. His cheerfulness and forbearance as he faced his final days were a remarkable and moving example to all of us who have to carry the burden of advancing years.
In this sense, I come among you not only as a father, but also as a brother who knows well the joys and the struggles that come with age. Our long years of life afford us the opportunity to appreciate both the beauty of God’s greatest gift to us, the gift of life, as well as the fragility of the human spirit. Those of us who live many years are given a marvelous chance to deepen our awareness of the mystery of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. As the normal span of our lives increases, our physical capacities are often diminished; and yet these times may well be among the most spiritually fruitful years of our lives. These years are an opportunity to remember in affectionate prayer all those whom we have cherished in this life, and to place all that we have personally been and done before the mercy and tenderness of God. This will surely be a great spiritual comfort and enable us to discover anew his love and goodness all the days of our life.
With these sentiments, dear brothers and sisters, I am pleased to assure you of my prayers for you all, and I ask for your prayers for me. May our blessed Lady and her spouse Saint Joseph intercede for our happiness in this life and obtain for us the blessing of a serene passage to the next.
May God bless you all!
My friend Joseph
- Created on Saturday, 29 October 2011 01:50
Joseph Marafino died in Scranton, Pennsylvania forty one years ago. He died at the Maloney Home, which is what you would most likely call the Little Sisters of the Poor Home if you are a native Scrantonian.
Joe was an immigrant from Italy and may have been a father, husband, and grandfather. I don’t know about any of that. I just know that he was a barber all his life in Philadelphia, and in his late eighties, he still had black hair and bushy eyebrows, was about 4’11’, thin, and full of arthritis in his hands and knees. His greatest joys were the Mass, and still being a barber, talking to others and listening to them. He also had a beautiful gold medal of St. Joseph that he always wore around his neck. I have a great love for St. Joseph, and I loved Joe Marafino.
Joe Marafino came to Scranton when the Home on Chester Avenue closed temporarily for reconstruction. He came to Scranton, because he really had no other place to go in Philly, and because the Little Sisters loved him, and he loved them. The Scranton home sat high on top of a hill, and was a world to itself in summer, and even more difficult to get to in winter. As I remember, everyone who lived there had something to do, and everyone was happy.
He joined the other nine “gentlemen” who lived in the basement bedroom. There were white curtains between each bed, a night stand, and a common bathroom with the basics. To the right of the large dorm was a smoking room with straight backed chairs. A small TV played all day. The kitchen was in the middle of the building, and the laundry on the other end. The chapel and the mens’ dining room were on the second floor. The home had a barber shop, directly across from the big bedroom. It became the official and exclusive domain of Joseph Marafino. He reigned supreme, at the service of anyone who would take him up on his offer to give them a shave or haircut. His services became better and better known, and even the chaplain, Fr. Gannon, who taught at the college next door, became his customer.
Over the next couple of years, Joe’s eyesight diminished, and his customers became more and more wary of his skills. The end point came rather abruptly; he trimmed Fr. Gannon’s hair WAY above his ears. Not a good advertisement for a barber, and a disaster for young priest teaching college courses.
After that, Joe seemed to grow thinner and thinner. He needed more help with getting about and getting up. He needed to be cared for. Then, we all knew Joe was dying. Fr. Gannon anointed him, and it was the time to stay at his bedside. Joe was alert and at peace. We took our turns being with him, and I wanted, very much, to be with Joe when he died.
I was with him until he breathed his last breath. Our connection was more intimate than anything I had ever experienced on earth. Our bond at the closing of his life seemed a relationship that God alone could have made possible, because, there was no earthly reason for it. I was with him when his life’s journey ended. He was with God forever.
After Joe died, and we cared for his physical needs for the last time, I had a few silent moments with him after the last Little Sister, resident, and staff member had visited and prayed, and before the undertaker arrived. At that moment, the tears that fell were more powerful than any experienced before or after. They were the tears of a mother, a sister, a daughter, and the best of friends. They were tears that expressed the great love I had for Joe, and my joy that our lives had been mysteriously intertwined. I realized, at that moment, that God had called me to love others with HIS love. I understood that in the ordinary events of everyday life, my vocation to the elderly would ask something new of me each and every day. God wanted me to be a sign of His love for the persons He would put into my life, and that He was using me bring them to Himself. I understood that as a Little Sister, my life was not my own. I was not going to be able to do good for even a fraction of the countless needy persons in the world, but, through my vocation in the Church, I would witness to the compassion of Christ in ways that one person could never do by herself. At that moment, I prayed for Joe, and I experienced, in the deepest recesses of my heart, Christ’s words: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”. It is that realization that has sustained me, nourished my faith, and given me hope as my journey continues. God continues to ask something new every day. It is worth every minute of it.
– Sr Paul Mary of Jesus
Visiting the Elderly Teaches Lessons of Faith and Gratitude
- Created on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 15:48
I started to get involved with service at CUA the beginning of my Freshmen year. I tried a few things and found some that I really enjoyed and others that I wasn't so comfortable with. I found my niche in serving the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home.
Being a service leader for Little Sisters has made me really appreciate the act of conversation and to realize how important the conversation that I have with the residents is to my own faith. They are constantly teaching me things about myself, my faith, and my life.
I serve because of the joy that it brings others. How can you pass up seeing a huge smile on the face of an elderly resident when you ask them to dance at the Fall Ball! I have also learned a great deal about how to talk to the elderly. I have learned what questions they enjoy and what questions might not be the best to ask anymore.
Service has strengthened my relationship with God. I find myself praying more often and realizing how blessed I am to have my family so close and so supportive. It has also helped me to see that God is using me to bless others by a simple act of talking.
Andrew Laux, Catholic University of America, Class of 2012
Blessings from the elderly
- Created on Friday, 28 October 2011 02:01
“Life is our first gift from an infinitely loving creator.” (To Live Each Day with Dignity) … “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” … “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” … Caring for the elderly, sick, and dying is a divine call to love.
Each season of life is a supreme gift. What a gift to experience the birth of a child. How sacred the moment when a child tells his mother, “I love you.” Leaving home for college, getting married, making important life choices, serving God in single, married or religious life … using the gifts that God joyfully gives to each of us … all a response to the gift of life and our calling from our loving creator.
Life has its way of moving along so quickly. How busy we are on our journey! And in the circle of life we are all blessed with the presence of others who witness to our lives and who value us. When our siblings move away, and our friends pass on, and our children are busy with their families, and our body begins to age, it is so easy to resist this vulnerable time. How do we love and assist those who are vulnerable? Let us consider the multitudinous ways the elderly love and assist us.
We rush around in our society. We are impatient. The elderly teach us patience. Each of us will slow down. We will need assistance. It may be our vision or hearing or our ability to walk. The elderly teach us kindness. Every day I experience our residents reaching out to each other. They build each other up and wish each other well. They share their belongings. They no longer grip tightly to the things of this world. They share their time, their stories, their pains and sufferings. The elderly accept what comes their way. They adapt to changes, even the ones that they would never choose for themselves. The elderly remind us constantly of God…of the spiritual things, not the worldly. They remind us of the gift of faith that may be resting in us as we are still so independent. They teach us gratitude and appreciation. They appreciate a visit, a smile, a hug, a good joke, laughter, simplicity. They show us hope. We need never lose hope, even if our minds falter. The Spirit lives on forever. The joy lives on forever. How blessed we are to help someone who is unsure feel secure again. Simple tasks like finding one’s way to chapel or activities, or to his or her room, are rewarded with such love.
How foolish and disastrous for us in our society to even consider disposing ruthlessly of any human being and especially our dear elderly. I join wholeheartedly with all of us who have been abundantly blessed by the love, joy, and peace that the world cannot give but that our elderly give us so freely. The elderly are our prophets. Let us honor and respect them. They are instruments that God uses to show us how to live each day with dignity… a lesson for which our society so desperately longs.
– Irene O’Connor, Activities Director, Philadelphia
What My Mother's Death Taught Me
- Created on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 11:16
I watched my mother die. Together we spent the last few months reading and praying together. She was praying for acceptance into the fullness of the Kingdom and I, well, I was praying she wouldn’t leave this wonderful life in lots of pain. And if wishing for a happy death can actually come true, I think it did. Mom had a wonderful acceptance of God’s will for her and lived each day in God’s presence. She modeled for me what faith is and what prayer can do. So we both got our wish—she a peaceful death; and me, the knowledge that death is part of living and that we both “got on with it!!”
– Florence Schmitt, Evansville, IN