Jerry Novotny OMI – Turning 80 several years ago, I have come to accept the fact that now I am a part of the worldwide “Senior Family”. By 2050, the world’s population of people aged 60 years and older will double (2.1 billion). The number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050 to reach 426 million. We also know for a fact that the number of people aged 60 years and older have outnumbered children younger than 5 years. Yes, people worldwide are living longer. A new world order is being created, a generation referred to as the “Senior Family”.
The members of this generation face new problems, new challenges in life. A longer life brings with it opportunities for societies as a whole. Additional years provide the chance to pursue new activities such as further education, a new career or a long-neglected passion. Older people also contribute in many ways to their families and communities. Yet the extent of these opportunities and contributions depends heavily on one factor: health.
For extensive research on contribution of elderly to society, much can be found by searching google. Here I would like to speak about death, a topic on the minds of all who belong to the new “Senior Family”. Whether in good health or not, preparations are necessary to age gracefully.
Around the world, about 190,000 people will die today. Most of them will have known in advance that they were about to die. They will have had time to prepare themselves for the end of their lives, and will be blessed to have their family around them when they breathe their last.
However, some of the people who will die today won’t be so lucky. About 1 out of 8 of them will die because of a sudden accident or because they will be the victims of violence. They will not be blessed with time to prepare and their families will not be with them when they pass away. Many of them will not even know what hit them.
All those people who will die unexpectedly today have plans for the future. They believe they still have plenty of time to realize their dreams. They may be saying to their friends right now, “See you tomorrow.” How could they know that tomorrow will not come for them?
Death is not something we like to think about. For many of us, it almost seems unreal, especially for those under 65. They believe that they still have many years of life ahead of them. For those over 65, it does not seem unimaginable anymore. In fact, once you reach 80, it becomes a real part of your life.
Many people have the attitude that death is not worth thinking about. Why ruin what life we have left thinking about how it all will end one day? Why not just live your life and deal with death when it comes? Other people have the attitude that we should just live for today without concern for tomorrow. But most people just take life for granted. They act as if they will live forever. The thought that they will die one day is not something they care to think about or plan for.
But in reality, we do not know when death will come. It is something like Noah’s flood in the Bible. People were making plans for the future, but the flood waters wiped them away. Another example is that of a thief. Burglars don’t alert homeowners or businesses that they’re planning to rob them. Just so, when Jesus comes calling, there will be no warning.
Consequently, we must be prepared. Whether we die today or fifty years from now, our death is closer today than it was yesterday. This means that we have to start today to live our Christian faith seriously. We cannot afford to waste any more time.
Lent is upon us. What better time to begin then this holy period of purification and preparation. During this important season, we are given an opportunity for self-examination in order to better discover both our identity as children of God and our relationship with Him.
The Holy Spirit, through the teachings of the Catholic Church, asks us to carry out a three-fold mission during Lent, with the key pillars being fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Certainly, these components are not new within our Catholic teachings nor are they reserved only for Lent. We are encouraged to practice them regularly throughout the year.
Living these three pillars will remind us every moment of every day that God is present to us and wants to reveal Himself to us. Most of all, He desires our love and friendship. Living these three pillars will open the doors for a deeper relationship with God – a person to person relationship whereby we can communicate with God throughout the day, as our real father, our real friend and our Saviour.
Think about all the moments of our day when we have an opportunity to meet God. It could be quiet times in the morning before the sun rises when we can reflect on God’s love for us. It could be those times when we meet someone who needs our help. It could also be times when we’ve needed help, and God has sent someone to give us an encouraging word or to lend a hand to us. It could be times like this when we are gathered with other believers, listening to His word. And the most precious time of all is when we receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion.
So, let’s not waste any more time. Let’s begin to make choices that enhance our spiritual lives which in turn prepares us for our death. Let’s open our minds and hearts to all the graces that God wants to give us in the present moment. What is life really but a long string of individual moments. If I make the most of each of those moments, I will have a meaningful life. But if I waste those moments, then I will have a wasted life.
When we live with a sense that our lives are short and that the future is not promised to us, we will make the most of the present. Rather than take our lives for granted or look to the future with a sense of entitlement, we will be grateful for the time we have. Then we will face death, no matter how it may meet us, with peace knowing that we will meet the Lord who has loved us and guided us all our days.
Although many senior citizens are still active in many ways, there is a gradual wasting away of physical strength and it will become worse with age. Pope Francis is also part ot this new generation.
Focusing on the conversation Jesus had with Peter at the end of John’s Gospel (21:15-23), Pope Francis said Jesus warns Peter that when he was young he was master of his own life, but that when he grows old his testimony would be “accompanied by weakness.” Jesus’ words can also be understood as inviting Peter to learn to bear witness in a new way in his old age.
“Your following will have to learn to allow itself to be instructed and moulded by your frailty, your helplessness, your dependence on others, even in dressing, in walking,” said the Pope.
In old age, he added, we learn to bear consistent witness “in the conditions of a life largely entrusted to others.” Pope Francis ensures this Senior Family Generation that their gradual “forcibly inactive act of following” the Lord – listening to Him and contemplating Him – will become “the best part of their lives.”
As the new generation of Seniors increases and prepares to meet God face to face, it good to remember that each one in this process is a human being, deserving our respect, love and care. Whether in good health or not, each is a valuable member.