Pope Francis has begun a new catechesis series on the meaning and value of old age. The 85 year old Pontiff began the series at his weekly General Audience on 23 February by saying, “We have finished the catecheses on Saint Joseph. Today we begin a catechetical journey that seeks inspiration in the Word of God on the meaning and value of old age. Let us reflect on old age. For some decades now, this stage of life has concerned a veritable “new people”, who are the elderly. There have never been so many of us in human history. The risk of being discarded is even more frequent: never as many as now, never as much risk of being discarded as now. The elderly are often seen as ‘a burden’. In the dramatic first phase of the pandemic it was they who paid the highest price. They were already the weakest and most neglected group: we did not notice them too much when they were alive, we did not even see them die. I also found this Charter on the rights of the elderly and the duties of the community: this was edited by governments, it is not edited by the Church, it is a secular thing: it is good, it is interesting, to know that the elderly have rights. It will be good to read it.”
The CGA hopes to share each of these important pieces of catechesis with you over the coming weeks. You will find them listed below in the order in which the Holy Father has delivered them.
On 2 March 2022 Pope Francis reflected on the alliance between children and the elderly as a source of inspiration and hope. You can read his text here:
On 16 March 2022 Pope Francis reflected on how old age is in a good position to grasp the deception of this normalization of a life that is obsessed with enjoyment and empty of an inner reality: life without thought, without sacrifice, without beauty, without truth, without justice, without love: this is all corruption. The special sensibility of us old people, of old age, for the attention, thoughts and affections that make us human, should once again become the vocation of many. You can read the full text on the link below:
On 23 March 2022, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on old age. He said, “An older person, one who has lived a long time, and receives the gift of a lucid and passionate testimony of his history, is an irreplaceable blessing. Are we capable of recognising and honouring this gift of the elderly? Does the transmission of faith – and of the meaning of life – follow this path today, of listening to the elderly? I can give a personal testimony. I learned hatred and anger for war from my grandfather, who fought at the Piave in ’14, and he passed on to me this rage at war. Because he told me about the suffering of a war. And this isn’t learned in books or in other ways… it’s learned in this way, being passed down from grandparents to grandchildren. And this is irreplaceable.” You can read the full text in the link below:
On 20 April 2022, Pope Francis reflected on the fragility of old age. He said, “Today, with the help of the Word of God that we have heard, we open a passage through the fragility of old age, marked in a special way by the experiences of confusion and despondency, of loss and abandonment, of disillusionment and doubt. Of course, the experiences of our frailty in the face of life’s dramatic — sometimes tragic — situations, can occur at any stage of life. However, in old age they can produce less of an impression and induce in others a kind of habituation, even annoyance. How many times have we heard or thought: ‘Old people are a nuisance” — ‘But, these old people are always a nuisance’; we’ve said it, we’ve thought it… The more serious wounds of childhood and youth rightly provoke a sense of injustice and rebellion, a strength to react and fight. On the other hand, the wounds, even serious ones, of old age are inevitably accompanied by the feeling that, in any case, life is not contradicting itself, because it has already been lived. And so the elderly are somewhat removed from our experience: we want to keep them at a distance.”
On 27 April 2022 Pope Francis offered a reflection on Grandparents. He said, “Today we will continue to reflect on the elderly, on grandparents, on old age – the word seems ugly but no, the elderly are great, they are beautiful! And today we will let ourselves be inspired by the splendid book of Ruth, a jewel of the Bible. The parable of Ruth sheds light on the beauty of family bonds: generated by the relationship of a couple, but which go beyond it. Bonds of love capable of being equally strong, in which the perfection of that polyhedron of fundamental affections that make up the family grammar of love shines. This grammar brings vital lymph and generative wisdom to the set of relationships that build up the community. With regard to the Canticle of Canticles, the Book of Ruth is like the other panel in the diptych of nuptial love. Just as important, just as essential, it indeed celebrates the power and the poetry that must inhabit the bonds of generation, kinship, devotion and fidelity that involve the entire family constellation. And which even become capable, in the dramatic conjunctures in the life of a couple, of bringing an unimaginable power of love, able to relaunch hope and the future.”
On 4 May 2022 Pope Francis shared a reflection on Eleazar. He said, “On the path of these catecheses on old age, today we meet a biblical figure — an old man — named Eleazar, who lived at the time of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. He is a wonderful character. His character gives us a testimony of the special relationship that exists between the fidelity of old age and the honour of faith . He is a proud one! I would like to speak precisely about the honour of faith, not only about faith’s consistency, proclamation, and resistance. The honour of faith periodically comes under pressure, even violent pressure, from the culture of the rulers, who seek to debase it by treating it as an archaeological find, or an old superstition, an anachronistic fetish, and so on.”
On 11 May 2022 Pope Francis spoke about Judith. He said, “Today we will talk about Judith, a biblical heroine. The conclusion of the book that bears her name — we have listened to a passage from it — summarizes the final part of the life of this woman, who defended Israel from its enemies. Judith is a young and virtuous Jewish widow who, thanks to her faith, beauty and cunning, saved the city of Bethulia and the people of Judah from the siege of Holofernes, general of Nebuchadnezzar king of Assyria, an overbearing and contemptuous enemy of God. And so, with her astute way of acting, she was able to slit the throat of the dictator who came against the country. She was brave, this woman. She had faith.”
On 18 May 2022 Pope Francis shared a reflection on the Book of Job, a universal literary classic. He said, “On our catechetical itinerary on old age, we meet Job. We encounter him as a witness of a faith that does not accept a “caricature” of God, but protests loudly in the face of evil until God responds and reveals his face. And in the end, God responds, as always, in a surprising way: He shows Job His glory without crushing him, or better still, with sovereign tenderness, tenderly, just like God always does. The pages of this book need to be read well, without prejudices, without stereotypes, to understand the power of Job’s cry. It would be good for us to learn from him how to overcome the temptation of moralism when faced with exasperation and bitterness over the pain of having lost everything.”
On 25 May 2022 the Holy Father focused his reflection on old age on the Book of Qoheleth, [or Ecclesiastes], another jewel set in the Bible.
On 1 June 2022 Pope Francis continued his catechesis on old age using the beautiful prayer of the elderly man that we find in Psalm 71, which encourages us to meditate on the strong tension that dwells in the condition of old age, when the memory of labours overcome and blessings received is put to the test of faith and hope. In his reflection the Holy Father said “Do not hide old age, do not hide the fragility of old age. This is a teaching for all of us.”
On 8 June 2022 Pope Francis continued his catechesis by reflecting on the words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus. The Holy Father said, “Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the meaning and value of old age in the light of God’s word, we now consider the words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew” (Jn 3:3) by water and the Holy Spirit. This spiritual rebirth does not negate or detract from the value of our earthly existence, but points it towards its ultimate fulfilment in the eternal life and joy of heaven. Our age, with its frantic pursuit of the myth of eternal youth, needs to relearn this truth and to see every age of life as preparation for the eternal happiness for which we were created. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life (v. 16). The elderly, through their faith, wisdom and experience, can bear convincing witness to the presence of God’s kingdom in our midst and the authentic meaning of our earthly existence as a foretaste of that true “eternal youth” which awaits us in the new creation inaugurated by Christ and his Holy Spirit.”
On 15 June 2022 Pope Francis spoke about the example that elderly offer in their own gratitude for their gift of faith. He said, “Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the meaning and value of old age in the light of God’s word, we now consider the healing of Saint Peter’s mother-in-law. The Gospel of Mark tells us that as she lay in bed with a fever, Jesus took her by the hand and the fever left her; and she began to serve them (cf. 1:29-31). The fact that Jesus wished to heal her in the company of the disciples reminds us that the entire Christian community is called to be present to our brothers and sisters in need. We proclaim Christ’s salvation and the hope offered by the Gospel precisely by reaching out to those who, like so many elderly people in our communities, feel isolated and even abandoned. Peter’s mother-in-law then responds with gratitude for the gift of God’s mercy by getting up and immediately serving her guests. Within the Christian community, the elderly offer a precious service by their own example of gratitude for the gift of faith and the experience of the Lord’s healing touch in their lives. They teach us that Christian discipleship is expressed in acts of charity, inspired by gratitude for the merciful love that touches and transforms our lives.”
On 22 June 2022 Pope Francis spoke about the words of the Risen Jesus to Peter. The Holy Father said, “Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the meaning and value of old age in the light of God’s word, we now consider the words of the Risen Jesus to Peter at the Lake of Tiberias (Jn 21:17-18). Peter reaffirms his love for Christ and receives the command to feed the Lord’s sheep. Jesus adds, with a reference to Peter’s eventual martyrdom: “When you were younger, you used to go wherever you wished; but when you grow old, another will take you where you would not go”. These words have a particular meaning for the elderly, since the passing of the years naturally entails physical frailty and heightened dependence on others. At the same time, however, old age can be a time of renewed love for the Lord, hope in his promises, and growth in spiritual wisdom. Jesus goes on to tell Peter not to concern himself with John, the younger disciple, but with persevering in fidelity to his own calling and mission. His words remind us of the need, in life’s later years, to make room for the younger generations and to respect their place in the unfolding of the Lord’s saving plan. For Christ’s disciples, old age can thus be a fruitful season of contemplation, gratitude and witness to the grace of God constantly at work in our lives and in the world around us.”
There were no audiences during the traditional holiday month of July and therefore no new catecheses in this series.
On 10 August 2022 Pope Francis spoke about the joy that Christ’s followers in every age have. He said, “Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on old age, we now consider Jesus’ words of farewell to his disciples, as recorded in Saint John’s account of the Last Supper (Jn 14:1-3). On the eve of his death, our Lord encourages the disciples to persevere in faith and assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them in the house of the Father. Like the first disciples, Christ’s followers in every age live in joyful expectation of the fulfilment of that promise. Old age can be an especially fruitful time for bearing witness to the message of hope proclaimed by the Gospel. By their serene faith and trust in Christ’s promises, the elderly can show us that our time on earth is meant to be lived as a preparation for something immensely greater: the joy of eternal life in the company of our Lord and all the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem. The passing of the years can thus become a blessing, not a threat, and a testimony to the good news that life, at every stage, points beyond itself to a fullness that is God’s gracious gift to his beloved children.”
On 17 August 2022 Pope Francis spoke about ancient days. He said, “Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on old age in the light of God’s word, we now turn to the mysterious figure of the “Ancient of Days”, presented in a vision of the prophet Daniel (Dn 7:9) and echoed in the Book of Revelation (cf. Rev 1:13-14). This image of God the Father, venerable in age and authority, expresses God’s transcendence, his eternity and his constant care for this world and its history. The figure of the “one like a son of man” is a prophecy of Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, sent into our world for our salvation. At his Presentation in the Temple, the child Jesus was embraced by Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who recognized in him the long-awaited fulfilment of God’s promises. The presence of the aged couple speaks to us of the special vocation of the elderly: to welcome the young into our world, to celebrate their lives as a blessing and to testify to the unity of the different generations in the unfolding of God’s saving plan. The elderly play an indispensable role in helping the young to mature in wisdom, rooted in continuity with the past and looking ahead to the future of hope that God, the “Ancient of Days”, opens up before us all.”
On 24 August 2022 Pope Francis continued his catechesis on old age. The Holy Father said, “Our series of catecheses on old age in the light of God’s word now concludes with a reflection on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated in these days of August. Our Lady’s assumption, body and soul, into heaven is intimately bound to the resurrection of Jesus her Son and to its promise of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and showed them the signs of his passion and death. He revealed that, in the life to come, the “flesh” of our individual identity, our memories, experiences and personal history, will endure and be transfigured in the presence of the living God. Our Lord describes the life of the resurrection with images of joy and fulfilment, as we, and our world, will be “reborn”, and the seeds we have sown on earth will bear eternal fruit. The season of life which we call “old age” is thus a privileged time to grow in the wisdom born of faith, to view our lives in their proper perspective, through God’s eyes, and to look forward with joy to the fulfilment of our hope in the glory of heaven, in communion with Our Lady and all the saints.”
The Holy Father’s catechesis on the value of old age concluded on Wednesday 24 August 2022.