LOVE, HONOR, DIGNITY AND THE FRAGILITY OF OLD AGE
Today, the weekly general audience was held in St. Peter’s Square for the first time in over two years. The Vatican gendarmerie estimated the faithful present to number about 20,000.
In powerful images and words, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on the elderly, focussing on “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.” (Vatican photo)
“Of course,” continued Francis, “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’: don’t deny it, that’s the way it is… We’ve said it, we’ve thought it…”
But this is where love and honor and human dignity come into play.
“In the common human experience,” he explained, “love – as is said – descends…That is, we have received the love of parents, of grandparents, and now we return this love to them, to the elderly, to our grandparents. Today we have rediscovered the term ‘dignity’, to indicate the value of respecting and caring for the age [life] of everyone. Dignity, here, is essentially equivalent to honor: honoring father and mother, honoring the elderly, and recognizing the dignity they possess.”
“This special love that paves the way in the form of honor – that is, tenderness and respect at the same time – intended for the elderly is sealed by God’s commandment. ‘Honor thy father and mother’ is a solemn commitment, the first of the ‘second tablet’ of the Ten Commandments. It is not just about one’s own father and mother. It is about their generation and the generations before, whose leave-taking can also be slow and prolonged, creating a time and space of long-lasting coexistence with the other ages of life. In other words, it is about the old age of life, old age…”
Honor is lacking, however, exclaimed the Pope, when, for example, “young people are encouraged, even indirectly, to an attitude of condescension – and even contempt – for the elderly, for their weaknesses and their precariousness, this produces horrible things. It opens the way to unimaginable excesses. The young people who set fire to a ‘bum’s blanket – we’ve seen this, haven’t we? – because they see him as a human reject, and we often think that the old are the refuse, or we put them in the trash; … ‘Refuse’ is the word, isn’t it? To despise the elderly and cast them from life, to put them aside, to put them down.”
“This contempt that dishonors the elderly,” declared Francis, “actually dishonors all of us. If I dishonor the elderly, I dishonor myself.”
The Holy Father went on to say: “On this point, allow me to offer some advice to parents: please, bring your children, young children, closer to the elderly, always bring them closer. And when the elderly person is ill, a bit out of their mind, always approach them: let them know that this is our flesh, that this is what has made it possible for us to be here. Please don’t push the elderly away. And if there is no other option than to send them to a nursing home, please visit them and bring the children to see them: they are the honor of our civilisation, the old people who opened the doors. And many times, the children forget this.”
Pope Francis concluded the audience: “I’ll tell you something personal: I used to love visiting nursing homes in Buenos Aires. I went often. I went often, I visited each one… And I remember once I asked a lady: ‘And how many children do you have?’ – ‘I have four, all married, with grandchildren …,’ and she started talking to me about the family. ‘And do they come [to visit]?’ – ‘Yes, [she said,] ‘they always come!’ When I left the room, the nurse, who had heard, said to me: ‘Father, she told a lie to cover up for her children. Nobody has come for six months!’ This is discarding the old, it is thinking that the old are refuse. Please: it is a grave sin. This is the first great commandment, and the only one that says the reward: ‘Honor your father and your mother, and you will have long life on earth’.”