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"Each time I reach down to tie my own shoes and realize it's not as easy as it was, yesterday, I only need to look up to the open door before me. Even when I can't tie my own shoes and velcro has become an old friend, Jesus will continue open a succession of doorways which ultimately lead to eternal union.
The Blessing of Aging
by Fr James Brackin, Priests of the Sacred Heart
Money quote: "As we age, our bodies will diminish and yet our spirit grows an increased dependency on God and intimacy with Jesus. With each ache, pain,unexpected sickness, or unexpected diminishment, Jesus will give us a little nudge to the open door to enhanced intimacy with him."
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(transcribed from EWTN)
I'm come to realize that you have to have a certain amount of living experience to appreciate the aging process. I've entitled this talk - the "blessing of aging". Blessing means to speak well of something..
Life expectancy in the 1900's was 47. Today it is 78 for men and 80 for women. In 2020, the over 65 population will grow to 20 percent and the population over 85 will have grown by 100 percent.
What is God telling us about this reality? I think God is fundamentally telling us is that aging is good.
The subtitle of this talk is "sometimes we need a little nudge" There are times we need a little nudge from God on our journey least we get stuck.
I was reminded of this while recently on retreat... I was walking along a grassy meadow when I saw right on the edge of the path, an orange fuzzy caterpillar. I realize if it continued on the path it was on, it would end up being squashed by some walker and would never become a butterfly. So I reached down and gave it a little nudge. I flicked it with my finger a little ways toward the grassy meadow and it continued away from the walking path.
There is a moment in everyone's life when he or she experiences a newly found feeling of independence. My feeling happened when I broke the secret code.
The secret code I broke was learning to tie my own shoes... (I was born in pre velcro days so if you couldn't tie your own shoes, you needed someone to help you to go every place). Once I broke the code, I was free to come and go on my own. From the moment I learned to tie my shoes, I began to be seduced by the illusion of complete independence, that I didn't need others.
This illusion is the one of perpetual youth and it's very seductive. Youth is associated with blessing and age is associated with curse.
When one is under this illusion, one does everything one can do to stop aging. Cosmetic surgery is the fastest growing specialty in the medical profession.
We spend billions on the effort to delay aging, exercise, supplements and surgery to look young. This is all part of living in an illusion that if one exercises enough, eats the right foods and spends enough money on looking good, that one will never get old or at least significantly slow the process. It's all an illusion because we will all age. There will be a time when I will no longer able to tie my own shoes and yet, my life will still be a blessing.
Contrary to the message of our culture, aging is the fulfillment of life and not a curse.
Genesis 15:15 "you.. shall join your ancestors in peace, you shall be buried at a contented old age"
Aging is associated with wisdom, the elders pass on their wisdom to successive generations - what will we pass on - fear of aging or the blessing of aging?
Aging does mean loss. It means diminishment. On Ash Weds, ashes are used to make the sign of the cross on our heads and the words said are: "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" This ritual is the way we are reminded that we are creatives - we are reminded of our creativeness - yes we are dust but we are a very special kind of dust.
"O God our Creator, you have wonderfully made the human person. us - you transformed dust into Your Image - You gave it a share in Your own Divine Nature" We, very special dust, are created to become the very Holiness of God
Yet, to be transformed, we must turn away from the illusion of perpetual youth and independence - we must embrace the sacred journey of diminishment.
John the Baptist says it perfectly: "He must increase while I decrease" John 3:30.
The sacred journey of life compells us to embrace the reality that Jesus must increase and I decrease... This is the sacred journey of diminishment - increased dependence on others and increased dependence on Jesus.
Inspite of all our efforts to the contrary, the human body will break down. The vast majority over 60 have at least one chronic medical condition. It might been elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure or arthritis... to mention a few but most of us who are over 60 have one chronic medical condition.
In the course of aging, most people will experience a serious sickness. This may have happened to many of us. The reality is that one can do all of the right things and still get sick.
At age 54, 7 years ago, Fr B had to face his first serious sickness. From the age of 40, Fr B exercised regularly, had a yearly physical, watched his diet. Yet at the age of 54, he was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer. Now when he got that news from his urologist, he thought he'd taken it well. But after getting into the car and driving 15 minutes, he realized "I don't know where I'm at - how did this happen when I did all the right things?"
During the course of my surgery and treatment, I was comforted by the following words of St Paul:
"We do not lose heart because our inner being is renewed each day even though our body is being destroyed at the same time." 2 Corinthians 4:16.
As the dust of our body diminishes, our spirit is drawn into greater intimacy with Jesus and this doesn't happen at the head level but at the core of our being, our "heart" - the place where God encounters us. More than 1000 times in Scripture, the heart is identified as the place where we encounter God. Is it any reason we are attracted to the Heart of Jesus if God encounters us in OUR heart.
The quality of our relationship with Jesus is not determined by our looks or the state of our physical being, rather it is determined by the quality of our being in our heart.
When we attempt to live in the illusion of perpetual youth, we desire to stay young, remain independent and sometimes even of God and yet we do not stay young and in our efforts, we do not stop the process of aging and ultimately, when we live in this illusion, we only hinder the process of our growth in intimacy with Jesus.
As we age, because we are that very special dust, God always provides us with what we need. Jesus promises never to abandon us... this promise is clearly articulated in Revelations:
"I know your deeds; that is why I have left an open door before you which no one can close. I know that your strength is limited; yet you have held fast to my word and have not denied my name." Revelations 3:8
As we age, and diminish, God nudges us to growth in our dependency upon Jesus and upon others. We are aware that we cannot go it alone. God remains very faithful to us throughout the course of our lives because we are very special dust.
Our bodies are special dust which will return to the earth however, the purpose of this very special is to serve as home to our spirit which is destined for eternal intimacy with God.
As we age, our bodies will diminish and yet our spirit grows an increased dependency on God and intimacy with Jesus. With each ache, pain,unexpected sickness, or unexpected diminishment, Jesus will give us a little nudge to the open door to enhanced intimacy with him.
Each time I reach down to tie my own shoes and realize it's not as easy as it was, yesterday, I only need to look up to the open door before me. Even when I can't tie my own shoes and velcro has become an old friend, Jesus will continue open a succession of doorways which ultimately lead to eternal union.
Aging is a blessing - we are very special dust indeed and Jesus is always ready to give us a little nudge.
Fr James Brackin, Priests of the Sacred Heart