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Valuing the Wisdom that Comes with Age

Father Terry writes:

Old age has a bad press in the UK. It becomes the source of endless jokes. It spawned comedies like One Foot in the Grave. Even Dad’s Army relied too much on jokes about incompetent of older people. And don’t get me started on Father Ted. The old are frequently shown as foolish, as blundering from one mishap to another. This mockery is so much at odds with the picture of older people in other cultures. In many other countries senior citizens are treated as truly senior citizens, who have acquired a lifetime’s experience and the wisdom of maturity.

Today’s first reading is a wonderful song of praise about wisdom. I never address myself directly to the older people in church, so I want to turn to you today and say that you are our source of wisdom. It is the traditional role of older people to help the rest of the community to judge all things wisely. To discern between the important the and trivial. To know when to hang on and when to let go. It is significant that in today’s gospel it is a young man who runs up to Jesus with all the energy and drive of youth and says to him in effect: ‘I want it all. Tell me how I can have it all.’ Jesus tells him, life is a choosing. You cannot have everything. Find your priorities. Come, follow me. And the young man goes away sad because he still thinks that he can find a way to have it all. Older people know better.

Many of our senior citizens are grandparents. I am tempted to call it your vocation. Parents love their children deeply, but often responsibilities for their children come in the way and create tensions. Grandparents are set free from the necessity for criticism or discipline. It is their job to encourage, to affirm. Not just their own grandchildren but younger people as a whole. A word of encouragement goes a long way, sometimes, I think, it has a more profound effect that a word of criticism.

Senior citizens are also examples of faith. Britain is out of step with much of the world and even much of Europe in the erosion of Christian faith here. And it seems to me that one reason for this may be the way that we view old age so negatively. Older people have time to pray. They have a lifetime of faith to draw on, faith that has seen them through some hard times. Other countries and cultures know this. What a pity that we are so blind to it in Britain today. A nation without faith becomes hardened and cynical; and indeed we are becoming like this.

Many older people have shared with me their distress at the way that younger generations have fallen away from the faith. There is no formula that I can give you for success, and I don’t want to raise false hopes. But I do want you to believe that you have planted a seed. Your children, and your grandchildren, have seen how faith has strengthened you and blessed you and given you serenity and strength and dignity. They will know, deep in their hearts, that your faith has given you wisdom and grace. Maybe, just maybe, after you are gone, when their hearts are more open, they will remember what God did for you in Christ, and will come back to receive from the hands of Christ themselves.

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