There is a certain tenderness to the aging process, something that tempers youth’s passionate energies and reconsiders the pieces of the past with a generous understanding of life and truth. It is something that belongs wholly to those who have managed to navigate the complexities of life with reverence and reflection. More importantly, it enables an embrace of the future and a peace with the past. As it occurs, there is a new understanding of the stark contrasts of right and wrong, black and white, light and dark. Aging is the gift of seeing more realistically: self, others, life, truth. Ironically, the acquisition of wisdom comes in partnership with social marginalization: aging, whether we like it or not, means social irrelevance.
Life and truth find new birth in the aging process. Life possesses a treasured heartbeat. There is no longer an endless stream of sunrises: the consciousness of mortality makes it so. But there is a second reality: grappling with truth. Truth finds true resonance in the depth of the soul. Aging allows the understanding that everyone is sharing that resonance, trusting that gut interpretation, searching for the most meaningful truths of human life. Aging allows the embrace of difference, the consciousness of love, the confrontation with the spirit of the law. Most of all, aging provides possibility.
When I was a child, I found it odd that Jesus died at such a young age; it seemed as if everyone older than that would be unable to relate to Him, to call or mission. But as I grew, I learned that the stories of the Bible are often wrapped around that process of growth and aging: there was Abraham, Solomon, David. And in the New Testament, Zechariah and Elizabeth, even the father in the Prodigal Son story. The mirrors, the role models, are there and somehow, they are all connected to living life fully with a spirit of wondrous appreciation and love. That happens in the realization that few things in life are actually clear cut. Choices are complicated: motivations and purposes are diverse; right and wrong are not always easily visible. What seems so clear to one person is opaque to another: neither can grasp the other’s perspective. Being right or wrong has status and sometimes equates to a jostling for power. It is never simple. Aging is the process of letting go of all that, of the process of ascendancy. Aging is about accepting and living reality.
In today’s readings, Romans chapter 13 describes love as the fulfillment of the law. The Gospel reading from Matthew 18 contains the critical line, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Both passages echo a deep truth. Life is about learning how to love, not control one another. Being present to one another and relating through conscious choice. Love is about sharing deep understandings with one another, not being fearful of or threatening each other. Love is about intent, generosity, actions. It is not about power or acqusition of power. There lies the connection with aging.
So much of what was perceived as the life force, the vitality of life is fading in aging. Physical strength and appearance are altered and diminished. What really matters in living becomes far more visible and valuable. The challenges of the past can be looked at once again, and the hurts can be consigned to a broader context…there is the chance to let go of the anger, the griefs, and the losses. Ironically, aging offers the chance to begin again. It may not be visible to everyone, but this is actually something that cannot be understood until actually experienced. Being at home as a Catholic means being all about the journey of life, and realizing the beauty of the gray.