I hope I don't offend anyone by saying "old people." I know we live in a youth-worshipping culture that causes such silly phrases as "40 is the new 20" and "50 is the new 30."
We have lost something significant when we not only reject the graces of growing old, but actively try to avoid them. There are rewards for aging but too often, those rewards are unacknowledged. I'll elaborate.
When I first attended non-denominational churches in the late 80's, I was giddy with excitement. The church was filled with other "twentysomethings," vibrant and full of energy. The oldest people were around 60 and there weren't many of them. Every once in awhile, I'd look around during a Sunday service and think, where are all the old people? I probably should have explored that question more but I was too busy dancing to the worship music.
Now that I'm back with the Catholic Church, I am thrilled to see "old people." Our local Traditional Latin Mass has a beautiful representation of every age group. Contrary to some thinking the TLM only attracts old people, our Mass has many younger families in their twenties. It also has families that have teenagers, and younger singles, middle-aged folks (raising hand), and those in their seventies and beyond.
Oh, how I love to see them all, but especially the old people.
Here's why: Do you ever notice how calm you feel around an older person who you know has finally figured out a few things in life? That's called wisdom. And boy, oh boy -- how badly we need it.
Wisdom tells you to think through things and not react. Wisdom tells you to forgive and move on instead of holding grudges. Wisdom tells you to avoid sin and pursue the good. To use the younger vernacular, wisdom is what old people are "rocking."
As some may already know, with maturity, comes wisdom. This is what was missing from my non-denominational church. Old people weren't attending because they were mature and didn't need to be entertained like kindergartners. Or maybe they weren't attending because at that stage in their life, they needed more than Christianity Lite. Since they were nearing the inevitable day where they'd be leaving this earth, maybe they realized they needed more to go on than Joel Osteen's latest feel-good pop psychology.
I've always loved to be around old people. It started when I was younger and would sit around the dinner table after a family gathering, listening to my older Italian uncles. They'd take various nuts from a large bowl, crack them loudly, and discuss the issues of the world. There was a lot of wisdom from them.
Then there were my hard-working farmer grandparents who were no-nonsense and raised their sons and daughter to not complain but take action. I didn't see my uncles as often but when I did, I loved hearing their homespun tales that often revealed deep wisdom.
Being around old people helps me realize that our Catholic faith is a tough one. It isn't based on flighty emotionalism that will evaporate in the morning. Our old people in the pews have fought in the trenches and lived to tell the tale. They've survived the craziness of the 60's and 70's. They were kicked around by the "modernists" who wanted to introduce everything under the sun -- from Eastern meditation practices to receiving the Eucharist in the hand. And after all that, they still are Catholic.
Their devotion encourages me. They are the "unsung heroes" of the Catholic Church. When I first started to attend the non-denominational church, I remember discovering Titus 2:3-5:
Bid the older women likewise to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited.
Reverent. Sober. Good. Sensible. Chaste. Domestic. Kind. Submissive.
Those all live under the umbrella of wisdom. I started to ask God to bring such women into my life. One was Elisabeth Elliot, who ironically has a brother who converted to Catholicism and wrote about it. (Thomas Howard) Elisabeth has the heart of a Catholic although she is Evangelical. But she is full of wisdom.
I didn't find too many older women in the non-denominational church. I had to find them through books and tapes. And even though I had left the Catholic Church, there were still "older women" and saints I followed who kept the faith. Mother Teresa and St. Teresa of Avila were two I especially loved.
We need old people because we will always need to be taught the right way of doing things. The old people have gone down the road and learned how to avoid the potholes. It helps to listen to them. You also learn that although emotions are wonderful, you need to consider other things when making choices. There is a rich, deep vibrancy about old people that often is missed because our culture only focuses on the shallow things. Old people are definitely not shallow. Like an old river that runs deep, so are old people within the Catholic Church.
Are there old fools? Of course. There are some older people who never seem to acquire wisdom. They're the ones running around, trying to act like their twenty years younger. Some women are like this. They so fear aging and appearing undesirable that they go to great lengths to dye their hair, get plastic surgery, and gallop through life wearing a mini-skirt to prove otherwise. Those are not the "Titus Women" I want.
I also think that the Catholic "dignity of life" extends especially to old people. Not only is the Church concerned with those just born, but those who are close to dying. There is indeed a respect for life that spans across the demographics. Thank God for the Catholic Church, who champions the cause not just of the unborn, but those who society would like to shrug off, as though our old people are some type of nuisance.
So this past Sunday, when I looked around and saw all the beautiful gray heads, I felt love and appreciation swell within me. I thanked God for them and asked that He would provide for them and watch over them.
Because our sad and shallow world needs them more than ever.