The Role Of The Elderly In Christian Family Life
They say there are three phases in life: youth, adulthood, and “My, you’re looking well.” So when you keep hearing the latter, you know you’re past your prime.
Getting old, however, is not quite as humorous. On the contrary, it’s distressing. You start to slow down. Your ligaments and tendons become stiff and leathery. Your skin acquires the texture of crepe paper, and parts of your anatomy sag in a most unattractive way. You repeat stories. It takes longer to learn and recall information. And you just can’t remember all the things you used to.
But old age can also be a fun time. You can go travel the world, pursue your interests, write your memoirs, join clubs or simply be carefree, throwing off the shackles of propriety.
The fact is, you can be something else other than just old. You can still be a blessing even in old age.
With aging comes an almost miraculous shift from self-centeredness to self-giving. You begin to see that life isn’t really all about you. When you were young, it was a matter of accumulating possessions and pouring energy into a lot of things. As an older person you can look back and see where that energy was wasted, realizing that what you thought would give you satisfaction never did, and what you pursued in your youth with all your might was least valuable. You find yourself reduced to a much simpler life because you’ve filtered life out and now know what people, what relationships, what efforts have real value. The focus is now on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years will not destroy.
This is also that period where you’ve learned how to control your instincts and passions, developed a strength of mind and a depth of experience, a grip on truth and a devotion to what is good and right. In other words, you’ve attained a level of great wisdom and deep serenity. At the very heart of this wisdom is the discovery of the profound meaning of human life and the transcendent destiny of the human person toward the one thing with eternal value. 2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to “shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”
So what is the role of the elderly in Christian family life?
Those on the last lap of life can continue to be pivotal contributors to family life, devoting a great deal of time to loving their families with disinterestedness, patience and discreet joy.
While respecting the autonomy of the new family, they can teach the young parents, now so busy earning a living and creating their own pleasure, how to nurture their marriage, raise their children, and how to be godly.
The elderly can play a significant part in bringing up children, from babysitting and storytelling, to cooking for and feeding the kids, providing a unique kind of loving care, which is one of the best parts about growing up in an extended family.
Though parents have the primary responsibility for the moral education and spiritual formation of their children, demands of modern life and economic pursuits limit the time they spend with their children. Very often therefore, it is grandparents with their physical presence and time on their hands who pass on the rudiments of faith and initiate them into the Christian life. With their spiritual experience, they’re the natural evangelizers in the family. They can share with grandchildren their love for Jesus and Mary and particular saints. They can teach the young how to pray and properly dispose them to receive and benefit from God’s grace.
The elderly also help make the home well suited for education in the virtues by exposing the children, in simple daily moments, to righteousness and goodness and also to the proper priorities and values. By their example, seniors can give them the lessons of character that they have harvested over a lifetime such as: honesty and responsibility, sacrifice and hard work, piety, compassion and generosity, respect for others, simplicity of life, purity and an attitude of gratitude. All of this is in addition to love within the family. Furthermore, they can diligently train the young to develop a good moral conscience anchored on Absolute Truth so they can discern the difference between right and wrong and avoid the corrupting influences of the secular culture. Finally, by showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their grandchildren to fulfill God’s commandments. The lessons learned from godly grandparents and other Christian seniors are often long remembered.
The old have a rich storehouse of memories of family traditions and values, for instance: respect for elders and authority, traditional courtship, modesty in dress, bayanihan, and the like. You remember how it was when you played with real people out on the streets, when entertainment was wholesome, when orasyon signaled that children should be home, and all the rest that comes to your mind. You have so much to talk about from the “good old days” that you could well entertain the younger ones for hours. Do it. The younger generation has never experienced what you have gone through. “Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighborhoods and their country.” (AMORIS LAETITIA, Par. 193)
The aged likewise have the advantage of perspective. They came through the hard knocks of experience and can teach the young a few things about life. The youth need your wisdom. A young person may be tempted to dismiss or diminish the advice because “things are different now” and “we live in different times.” Even though they may resent it, do it just the same. You can save them unnecessary heartache, suffering, and often lifelong, consequences. Your years are now valuable for the sake of counsel and advice.
Old age is a time for getting things in order and this stage of life offers the elderly the opportunity for a second chance. Through the relationship with their grandchildren, grandparents can correct or do better some of the things they felt less happy about as parents themselves. They can also do again, or reinforce, what went well the first time round. Not only can they form new relationships with their grandchildren, they can also repair and rework the old ones – with their own children.
Part of loving your families is praying for them. Entrust each one to the Lord. Wherever they are in their relationship with God, pray that He draws them ever one step closer. Be as specific as you can as you pray that He will meet them at their point of need.
It is natural to rethink and re-evaluate one’s life during the autumn years. It brings one to the realization that life is still worthwhile and that one can still be useful and fruitful – making a difference in the lives of other people – if only they continue to pursue the self-giving pattern of Jesus Christ. As Pope Francis said, “Old age is a time of grace, in which the Lord will renew His call: He calls us to preserve and transmit the faith, calls us to pray, especially to intercede; calls us to be close to those who may be in need.” How wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God!