The unhealthy attitude of the young in this modern time to the aged is something that threatens the peace of anyone who truly appreciates the blessing and beauty of old age. Old age is a blessing because not everyone will be fortunate to live to a ripe age where length of days are consumed, with the skin witnessing natural occurrence of the diminishing return of the human experience person and the dark hairs on the skull turning grey – a metaphoric imagery for the richness in and the show of wisdom; a treasure that is neither acquired by wealth, status, pedigree, intelligence or any achievement within the whims and caprices of man, but rather bestowed and granted by Yahweh, the Almighty who affirms rightly “I the Lord make rich” (cf. Prov. 10:22). Unlike in times past when children and grandchildren treasure their old parents and the aged members of their family and society, visiting and spending quality time with them, feasting with them and seeking their blessing, learning from them and having the wisdom and worthwhile traditions transmitted to them, today, the reverse is the case. Many young people forget that these aged people were once like them.
They forget that they (the young people) might never be fortunate to live longer to become old. Old age – what a treasure to be treasured!!! More rampant in this contemporary milieu is that we witness abandonment; neglect and disassociation of the young from aged members of the society as if they were never part of the cluster of humanity, and as if perhaps (the old people) belong to a different planet different from the planet – earth. Painful enough in our contemporary time is witnessing how some children, particularly in Europe and America dump their old parents and relatives in the home for the aged to be cared for by total strangers, a subtle marginalization in the disguise of charity, an attitude considered cruel, inhumane, unchristian, and uncharitable – a gesture lacking empathy and sympathy, and a stylish way of monetizing love and care which by implication objectifies the human person as a commodity rather than as a human person created betsalmenu kidmutenu (that is, in the image and likeness of God).
The Church noticing this unfriendly trend and being so concerned as a loving mother decided to mediate through her various edifying and profitable means – teaching, preaching, catechizing and mentoring, moral and religious education, publication of various Church documents, papal encyclicals and audiences to propagate and enhance healthy attitude towards the old. This malady, Pope Francis attempted to address, redress and redeem first in his audience on “Care for the Aged” dated 1st of June, 2022, and more emphatically in his message for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly with the aim of bridging the gap between the young and the Old. This paper, therefore, summarizes Pope Francis’ message to the World as the Universal Church today celebrates Grandparents and the elderly. It equally exposes the modern attitude of the young towards the care of the old, and how this (young) category of the society can value, appreciate, show love and care for grandparents and the elderly, embracing them as a blessing granted to the human society and God alone and only attainable by grace.
Old Age: Beauty, Blessings, Perculiarity And Challenges
Old age is a natural process which starts with intrauterine life, continues until death and is caused by irreversible degeneration of cells and systems. Old age is not a pathological process and it consists of physiological, psychological, sociological and chronological changes Thus, the definition of old age is quite broad and complex. Physiological old age is used for expressing structural and functional losses; psychological old age for expressing the decreases in perception, learning and problem solving ability; and sociological old age for expressing the decreases and losses in the values given by society to individuals . According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ageing at the biological level results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease and untimely death . According to the WHO, chronological old age is classified as follows: 65-75 years define young old ages and a transition period from working life to retirement; 75-85 years define advanced old ages and a period where functional losses begin to be observed; 85 years and older define very advanced old ages and a period that requires special care and support.
Be that as it may, old age is a blessing in various ways. From the social perspective, old age is a blessing to the society because the one who is old was once young and has travelled through the path of time and season. The old man is one who certainly has benefitted from different experiences, and when he looks back, he remembers the beautiful part and as for the ugly part, he does not take it as failure but a point of lesson for the young. Hence, man’s experiences are a culmination of both the ugly and the old, and all of these experiences become the subject matter for the old to impact unto the young. More so, when the old sees his offspring around him, he is gladdened that he has been fruitful; that he has multiplied and has subdued the earth, leaving his offspring behind to continue his generation.
The offspring give him a kind of psychological and emotional satisfaction. In that case, the offspring become a kind of emotional, psychological and procreative compensations to the old. It is procreative in the sense that when he is leaving this world, he is glad that he is leaving people behind. In the Holy Writ, Prophet Eli in his old age for instance was very happy that Samuel was with him because there was someone to take over from him, readily available and disposed to learn from him (cf. 1 Samuel 3). Hence, it gladdens aged persons when they see that there is someone who actually deserves to take over from them. The old look back at the younger ones as a blessing.
Furthermore, old age is also a blessing because we share from the wisdom of elders. Particular example in the Scripture is Moses who became successful in the charism of settling disputes and rendering advice to the Israelites through the timely and priceless advice given to him by Jethro his father-in-law who told him to appoint Judges who would help to aid better administration and service to the people of Israel (cf. Exodus 18: 13-26). More to the fact that old age is a blessing is that even authorities fall back to the aged members of communities in order to derive the information of antiquity. This is because the oldest in a society is believed to be a custodian of knowledge.
Pope Francis’ Message For The Third World Day For Grandparents And The Elderly
The Holy Father, Pope Francis in his message for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly encourages all and sundry, particularly the young, to reflect on the joyful meeting between the young Mary and her elderly relative Elizabeth (cf. Lk 1:39- 56). In this message, the Holy Father attempts to address, redress and redeem the place and importance of the old to the society. Not only that, he calls on the youths, the society and the Church at large to show tender loving care and affection to the aged in our society. In the words of the Holy Father, “visit your grandparents or an elderly person who lives alone. Their prayers will protect you and will carry in your hearts the blessings of that encounter ”.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis in his general audience and catechesis on old age dated 1st of June, 2022 had earlier noted that the old and elderly are “the weakest and most neglected group ” with little or no care and attention either from their family, the Church and the society at large. He says: In this throwaway society, this throwaway culture, elderly people are cast aside and suffer these things…there is no lack of those who take advantage of the age of the elderly, to cheat them and intimidate them in myriad ways. Often, we read in the newspapers or hear news of elderly people who are unscrupulously tricked out of their savings, or are left without protection or abandoned without care; or offended by forms of contempt and intimidated to renounce their rights. Such cruelty also occurs within families — and this is serious… Even more unfortunately, “rejected elderly people”, the Roman Pontiff says, are “abandoned in rest homes, without their children going to visit them, or if they do, they visit a few times a year. The elderly person is placed in the corner of existence. And this happens: it happens today, it happens in families, it happens all the time.
We must reflect on this .” In his message this year, therefore, the Holy Father strongly encourages humanity to “make a concrete gesture that would include grandparents and the elderly.” He went further to render words of plea saying: “let us not abandon them” for “their presence in families and communities is a precious one… ” The words of His Holiness Pope Francis calls to mind the timely teachings on old age by Pope Benedict XVI of blessed memory who asserted during his lifetime on earth that “the elderly constitute a resource for the society, and their wisdom and experience are an asset to be preserved and transmitted ”.
As the Universal Church celebrates the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, we are called to take the care of our grandparents and the aged members of our families and society very seriously. We should all remember that one day, we too will become elderly. We must therefore learn to begin to treat the elderly today as we would wish to be treated in our old age. By so doing, we prepare the bed of our old age the way we would want to lie on it, thus investing to reap the blessing of the Almighty just as Joseph reaped the blessing of Isaac when he fed his father at old age (cf. Gen. 27:25-29).
From the foregoing, it is established that young people generally have a cold attitude towards the aged, and this attitude does not in any way promote mutual co-existence but instead breeds marginalization of the aged. However, Pope Francis, through his General Audiences, and especially his message for the celebration of the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly has been able to combat this poor attitude towards the elderly by strongly admonishing the young to treat the elderly today as they would wish to be treated in their old age. Pastors, government, and the society at large are not left out on this. It is therefore important that they all treat the elderly with love and care.
This paper strongly emphasizes that old people deserve more care, attention and show of love than the usual placement of them in homes for the old, for when this is done, the ethical implication is that they are treated as a commodity and thus objectified which is contrary to the will of God who created man in His own image and likeness and wishes that man lives life in full. To properly care for the old, every member of the family, the Church and the society at large all have roles to play in ensuring that proper care and love is shown to the aged. God bless our Grandparents and the Elderly. Hearty cheers!!!