Growing Old

The pamphlet is crisp and clear, an undisguised request for support.  Its contents are equally direct: a monastery in Memphis closed, the sisters relocated.  The second flier is colorful and savvy, but its contents yeild the same information:  elderly nuns in need of care and support.  They grew old in the service of God and one another:  they built schools and communities, changed lives and lived out dreams and nightmares.  And then,  with energies shifting, they watched their worlds,  like their own bodies, change into nearly unrecognizable forms.  Those who were mainstays, faithful and strong, who persisted year after year in pursuing purpose and creating a better world, find themselves in need.  Marginalized, aching and weary, they have been claimed by Old Age and navigate all new territory.

Old Age pursues with a vigor that can best be described, ironically, as  belonging to youth.  Elderly priests, sisters and brothers, are no more than human, with a journey no different than anyone else’s.  Growing old touches every aspect of self: physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual.   And yet, it is hardly an individual journey; the process occurs within the life of a community; communities ebb and flow with the lives enmeshed together.  Life, death and rebirth are personal and communal.  What happens to one somehow affects all; that truth opens the possibility of caring for one another with courage and compassion.

Old Age opens the harbor of memory, offers a depth, a context for Life’s complexities and celebrations, a balance for the weight and worry of every day.  There is irony here, too: what appears to be decline, diminishment, births wisdom.  There is no solace in the losses, but there is joy in the remembering that there are gifts.  Old Age demands more than can be imagined.  It unravels persistently, uniquely in each life.  It knocks without welcome; seeks even more deeply when it cannot find.  It wants and wanes and wearies, but it does not come without a narrative, without meaning.   Escape is not an option, but the story is worth telling.

The story of each person, each community, is wrapped in circumstances, episodes and situations.  Every day marks subtle shifts that unwrap the aging process. But that history is worth recall and reflection; the building of memories and the learning of lessons does not occur without that.  Wisdom can only find its rhythm through the most rudimentary and practical living, the consciousness of being alive, being an individual and belonging to a community.  Old Age becomes partner and companion in the reflective process for both the person and the community.

Today, as those elderly sisters and brothers, priests and nuns search for support, they are turning to the communities they educated.  They await action, response, even as they demonstrate what it is to grow old.  Catholicism embraces the life cycle with the vision that brought the beauty of the sacraments and the examples of saints as well as the person seated in the last pew.    There are examples everywhere of those who have met the challenge Old Age presents with strength and courage, generosity, patience, gentleness and kindness.   Growing Old is about more than the limits of diminshment.  Old Age is about becoming, evolving, embracing  reality with mercy for self and others.









There are a thousand constructs that shape each day:  environment, seasons, age, experiences.  Somehow, the threads come together and create memories.  Some of  those stretch into monuments and dominante the landscape; others hide in the background, waiting to be re-discovered, wanting to be used in understanding the past and discovering the future.   Those threads bring the brilliance of color and the vividness of life at every stage.  In so many ways, reflection opens up the patterns those threads are shaping.

The reflective nature of Catholicism is everywhere: in the triumph of spires and the apologies about the missions, in the narratives of mystics and saints and the confessions of the privileged and criminal.  There is the joy of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and the promise of the Cloud of Unknowing; the mansions of Teresa of Avila and the  Spritiual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  And then there are the lesser known: a mother of eight kneeling at daily Mass, the elderly piper caring for an ailing wife, the child in white for evey week after First Communion, the sincerity of the newly confirmed and the tenacity of the convert.  The narratives are everywhere; each is placed firmly in historical context, born and bred in a time and place.  There is no escaping those parameters, but there is the chance to be conscious, aware of them, to grow in understanding and somehow be touched by the grace of wisdom.

Other traditions open similar paths, encourage the pursuit of grasping a sense of place in the universe, a home where  roots can stretch down deep into the soil of God’s love, a home that spurs  spreading  wings like an eagle and  flying.  There is beauty in it and hope that surpasses understanding.  But to know it means recording and then re-discovering those threads, being able to perceive realities from multiple dimensions and appreciate the movements that pulsate through every ordinary day.

Every memory is thread, a piece of that bigger picture that every lifetime possesses.  There are the treasures:  sparkling lights of a city at night, the fresh soft breeze of hte ocean, the scent of morning and the cool descent of dusk.  Holiday moments and tiny gifts, the joy of laughter among friends.  And somehow the griefs:  the failures and deaths, the rejections and unexpected losses, emptiness and sadness.  Together the good and the challenging weave a lifetime together.  Remembering itself is a sacred process, and the Gospels point to that. And every liturgical celebration, every Eucharistic celebration, is a call to remember, to transcend the boundaries and to begin to weave the  threads into a textured fabric of each lifetime.

Spirituality is the rhythm, the music that underscores and animates, enlivens and soothes.  The threads of spirituality are woven into every human experience and moment.  Often invisible, sometimes just hidden, those threads are real.  To simply see them is not enough to really understand.  That is the gift of time, of insight, of learning about self, others, the world and its gifts.  Seeing without fear, accepting reality, and being willing to deal with it anchors the threads in larger memories.  Without them, the intensity and range of color finds a sallow hue.  With them, the narrative finds depth and wealth, energy and vibrance.




Today, like every day, crept into our lives in snatches of time and slivers of light.  It simply opens the door to hours and tasks and choices, to new beginnings and to wrapping up the past.  Today is intricately linked to yesterday and intimately  seamed to tomorrow.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan.

His today dawned with attentiveness to what he was seeing and doing.  He was the one who chose to stop to help a man in need.  Assessing the situation,  empathy moved him to compassionate action.   Secure  in the rightness of what he was doing, he gently ministered.  He was attentive to what the day presented, alive to the need and capable of doing the best he could with what he had.

After all, the means and the competency to help were his.  His yesterdays enabled him to actually make a difference.  He had accumulated the knowledge and the resurces to help. One past today enabled him to act with alacrity, without judgement.  In otehr words, what he had done earlier was a springboard for what he was able to do in the story.

Ironically, the Samaritan who expected nothing becomes the celebrity hero.  The previous passerbys get no billing from history.  His ultimate reward was in becoming an example for today.

Amazingly, that one day in his life lead him into tomorrow.  He was the one who  promised to provide for the care of his neighbor on his return trip.   It was not all about that single act; it was about connecting and following up.

The Samaritan shows that each of us is doing the best we can with what we have at the moment.  His resources and choices were in the moment, but that is no different than his predecessors who left the man at the side of the road.   There is no judgement in the story; it is related with a generosity that leaves only wonder at those who chose to be passerbys.   There is no status or reward for the actions of that Samaritan.  It is simply a day, time spent in an unexpected way, doing the right thing.  For him, it was today.

The truth is that everyday is a today full of moments of choosing what to see, how to respond, how to problem-solve.  The magic of daylight illuminates new adventures for every day, casts diamonds before us.  The Samaritan of the Gospel reminds us that each day is ours for the living, and the choices made matter.

Today is not a servant to yesterday, but yesterday serves, informs and creates today.  Today is not simply a stepping stone to tomorrow; instead, tomorrow grows from the choices and options of today.  The bottom line is that today matters.  The Good Samaritan illustrated that with an unparalleled clarity.  There was no doubt that snatches of time made a difference.   And the story leaves  haunting questions:  How will today be lived? What will today mean when it becomes yesterday?  How will today live tomorrow?





Every Sunday

Today is Sunday, and we went to the early Mass as usual.  Same pew, same neighbors.  But behind us sat an inquisitive seven year old nestled next to his grandma.  He was bright-eyed and his face was framed by brown ringlets.

“You come here every week?” he whispered to his grandma.  “Every week? Every Sunday?”  After the affirmative response, he went on.  “What about them? Or those people over there? They all come here every week? Every Sunday?”  Another affirmative response.

“Why?  What are you doing?  Why are you doing it? Why are they all doing it?”

“When you care about someone, you spend time with them.  Like Grandpa and I come to visit with you and spend time together.  We are spending time together here because we care about each other, and we care about God and we believe God cares about us.”

“How do you know?” he whispered back.

She paused for a fraction of a second.

“It makes people happy?” he volunteered.   “I see them smiling at each other…this makes people happy to spend time, to be here.”

“Yep.  Every Sunday.” she chuckled. “Every Sunday.”

There was a tiny spark of the divine in those smiles, in the chuckles.  It was a bit of joy  coming on the heels of reports about attrition in the Catholic Church, the demise of the institution as it is known today.  It follows young people’s confident statements about the non-existence of a higher power or god, their beliefs that by 14, they had figured out it was all a scam, all religion in any form.  And all of that may be true.  But every Sunday, there is a chance to find another connection, to discover the divine spark. That exists everywhere and is not confined to a building or a singular liturgical experience.

To fully and ultimately reject all notion of faith community or God is a conscious deliberate choice made by an individual.  It may be a product of the scandals or bad persoanl experiences.  Maybe it is a  moral or ethical consideration.  The choice, however, does not change the human need for what is truly meaningful.  It does  not eliminate the human capacity for reverence or deep appreciation for the gifts life has to offer.  It is simply a choice, one that will alter life experiences and generational identity.  It may represent the future and independence of thought, an advanced form of individuation.  Or it may mean  that the spark which ignites connections and generates the best of what it is to be human is found in book clubs and online activity, in soccer leagues and families.  It may mean that new understandings are emerging every day of what it means to be part of something bigger than self.

Every choice bears intended and unexpected consequences, and this one is no different.  It might be worth thinking that every Sunday, every day,  does matter; the way time is spent does matter.  Those choices  validate persons and groups, defines through behavior the values and beliefs of individuals.    Questioning ourselves, reflecting on purpose and possibility opens up new dimensions of experience and possibility.  Opening the dialogue is a step that takes courage and conviction.

Thinking about our purpose in doing things, in the choices we make about time, matters.  Sundays are the chance to do that, to take a moment to be apart, wherever you are.  Taking the time to ask the questions, to remember the why…it all matters.   Discovering what other people think and believe and feel is worth knowing.  There is the chance to learn about self and others, to discover more deeply the wonders of the world that exists beyond self.   Every Sunday offers new moments of choice, of endings and beginnings and of growth and change. It’s all in the approach.




Our twenty-first century world is shaped by the common cultural terrain.  In many cases, that is all about who or waht is followed on social media and online.  It is desgnated by “following” which conjures images of FaceBook and fanbases, celebrity and lifestyles, loyalty and imitation.   There is exuberance in the widness and the freedom of it all.  But in Christianity, the invitiation “to follow” precedes all hint of the internet.  In an odd kind of way,  it connects with  many of the same characteristics.

The invitation to “follow” comes in the Gospel with both simplicity and demand.  It is issued with clarity by each of the evangelists.  In a sense, it is about becoming a fan of Jesus and his teachings.  Being a fan is a complicated business:  it is about marketing and branding, communicating links through headgear and t-shirts, online time and events like concerts and premieres, games and playoffs.  It means linking to the data, recognizing the names of significant figures, knowing the process and understanding the rules and the etiquette around it all.   In Christianity, it is about linking with the key teaching,   establishing a connection and a familiarity with the beliefs.  Looking at those teachings, like “love one another” or “Blessed are the merciful” actually means figuring out how to DO it, how to LIVE it.  It is not as easy as clicking on a button or adding a jersey to a collection.  To follow the Gospel demands curiosity, attentivness and purpose.  The decision “to follow” means choosing with purpose and recognizing something far greater than self.

Like online sources, the Gospel invitation to follow is always there.  There are countless openings, but they may not be as mind-blowing as internet sensations. Like the message itself,  they are clear and direct, engaging but not overwhelming or seductive. They rest in the realm of traditional insititutional structures realigning resources for the world and lifestyles that are evolving.  And yet, that in itself bears a curious connection to the original, to the Gospel message itself.

The Gospel was all about connections between people and beliefs, lifestyles and decisions.  The texts were recorded only after the oral tradition was in place.  And as the written gained momentum and then dominance, historical contexts honed interpretations and practices.  Some of these interpretation were ill-placed and even conradictory to the Gospel itself.  Some may have lead to the stigma that is currently clinging to religious beliefs. And yet, the Gospel itself survives as an invitation extended to each person for personal consideration and choice. It proffers  the chance of becoming a better preson and looking to something greater than self,

Maybe, as the curtain falls on the institutions of the twentieth century, the  lifestyles and communities they housed need not be lost.  Maybe the Gospel message can be rediscovered and found relevant in this century.  Maybe that possibility is  sitting on the edge of a keyboard waiting to be accessed.