In the United States, grandparents’ day was celebrated Sunday. In Mexico, it was also celebrated in recent days. In this context, here is a translation of a message from the leaders of the Mexican episcopal conference, regarding the dignity of the elderly.
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On August 28 Mexico observed the Day of the Elderly. “Despite the fatigue and pain, the gift of life is too beautiful and precious for us to tire of it,” said John Paul II (Letter to the Elderly, 1999, n. 1). And Saint Jerome said that old age has its advantages, as it “augments wisdom” (Commentary to Amos, II, Prologue).
The Bible gives us the testimony of older adults who did great feats. For instance, Moses, who was already old when God entrusted him with the mission to deliver His People from slavery in Egypt (cf. Exodus 3:7-10), as proclamation of the complete liberation from sin that the Father, Creator of everything, would effect for humanity through His Son, born by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, whom two elderly adults, Simeon and Ana, were able to recognize and proclaim to others (cf. Luke 2:29-38).
These examples and many others enable us to appreciate what the Psalmist exclaims: “The righteous … still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green, to show that the Lord is upright” (Psalm 92:15). However, some peoples, yielding to a mentality that gives priority to immediate utility and productivity, have conceived old age in a negative way, to the point of relegating and forgetting the elderly.
How many grandfathers and grandmothers suffer — in addition to the progressive deterioration of their physical, motor and mental capacities — loneliness, contempt and abandonment! How many suffer poverty, indigence, exploitation, discrimination, mistreatment, different forms of violence, lack of health services and opportunities to continue developing physically, affectively, intellectually, spiritually, socially and productively in terms of work!
Given this reality, it is necessary to recall the divine teaching: “You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of an old man” (Leviticus 19:32). The elderly offer an invaluable contribution to the family and to society. “They are depositories of the collective memory and, because of this, privileged interpreters of the whole of the common ideals and values that govern and guide social coexistence” (John Paul II, Letter to the Elderly, 1999, n. 10).
Moreover, human frailty, which becomes more visible in old age, demonstrates that we all need one another and that we are mutually enriched. The elderly are in need of the younger and the younger need the elderly who, as Pope Francis has reminded, communicate to the family the “patrimony of humanity and faith that is essential for any society” (Homily, July 26, 2013).
“The defensive weapons of old age … are … the putting into practice of the virtues cultivated in the course of life,” said Cicero (Cato or On Old Age, III, 9). These “defensive weapons” enable the elderly to face the suffering caused by sickness, loneliness or other situations related to advanced age. The gift of faith in particular helps them to discover that they are never alone; that God is with them, giving meaning to their life and offering them such a great and definitive hope, which makes the effort of the journey worthwhile.
In fact, life is a pilgrimage to the heavenly homeland. Old age is a stage of the journey. And although it is natural that it is hard for the elderly to be resigned to the prospect of this stage, faith gives them the certainty that those who believe in Christ “shall never die” (John 11:25-26). This hope must strengthen them to continue giving every day the best of themselves to others. They have so much to give to the new generations, with their words, their actions, their example and their prayer! Thank you to the elderly for what they are and for all that they have contributed and continue to contribute to the family and to society!
Conscious of this, we will try to build a society that appreciates, respects, includes, promotes and assists the elderly. Let us recognize, be grateful and support those laudable initiatives that give them care and those that enable them to continue cultivating themselves physically, affectively, intellectually, spiritually and socially, to be useful to others, keeping in mind that sentence of Cicero: “All age can be borne if it defends itself, if it preserves its right … if the elderly man is respected among his own up to his last moment” (Cato or On Old Age, X, 38).
+Jose Francisco, Cardinal Robles Ortega
Archbishop of Guadalajara
President of the CEM
+Eugenio Lira Rugarcia
Auxiliary Bishop of Puebla
Secretary General of CEM[Translation by ZENIT]