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The last trimester of life: The spirituality of aging

April 24, 2015
Deacon Christoph Sandoval

In Sacred Scripture our Lord reminds us in Psalms, Chapter 90 that God turns humanity back to dust and that “Seventy is the sum of our years, or 80, if we are strong; Most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone.” Here we encounter God’s call to grow – to grow toward him – to grow old gracefully. The last trimester of life is a time to pause, a time to reflect and a time to answer God’s final call to us.

Baby boomers as a group (people born during the demographic post–World War II baby boom between the years 1946 and 1964) are also called senior citizens, older adults and elders in a youth-obsessed culture that causes most of us to become invisible. Our experience is monopolized by losses such as the loss of loved ones, a decline in physical functioning, and a significant drop in income. The accumulation of such losses – and the increasing realization of our own deaths lead us to an intense exploration of spiritual issues.

We cannot ignore the signs of aging. For many this period of life is marked by a deterioration of physical abilities such as walking, sight, hearing and the onset of chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. Add to that list may be the potential loss of bladder control and alternating bouts of insomnia and aches and pains that sprout like mushrooms. Our mental abilities are also impacted by a decreased ability to multi-task, memory lapses and mental fatigue that require mid-afternoon siestas to recharge. For many seniors, the focus on external and worldly pursuits held throughout young adulthood and middle age give way in later years to a focus on the interior life. Many seniors experience a shift from doing to being. We find meaning and a purpose for life in the beauty and mercy of God and his church. Our faith in Jesus Christ becomes the compass by which to navigate the last trimester.

On the world stage all is not lost. We do have perks. We qualify for senior discounts at fast food restaurants, public transportation, and at the movies. We get to sit in senior citizens- and disabled-designated seating on public transportation and in concert halls. And let’s not forget we qualify for Medicare! But there is something more.

We come to the realization that we are part of the divine plan, that we are destined to live forever and that we will actually experience the embrace of Christ Jesus as we enter into heaven. As we begin to return the gifts of youth and middle age back to God’s library of time, talent and treasure we find joy in becoming what we’re intended to become – sons and daughters of the eternal father by becoming what we receive in Eucharist. In the last trimester of life we receive the gift to become dispensers of God’s love in a world intent on hate, truth tellers in an age dominated by the father of lies and evangelists who proclaim the word whether convenient or inconvenient.

In our fair city we have a landmark message from a prior generation who fought the good fight. Under the clock face of Old St. Mary’s Cathedral appears the words: “Son, Observe the Time and Fly from Evil” (Ecclesiastes 4:23). This sentiment was aimed at the men who frequented the surrounding brothels in the 1850s. It is good to remember that the clock is ticking and the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.

St.Paul warned us that, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.” Such is the time we live in. As elders we are called by God to convince, reprimand and encourage our generation through patience and teaching so that, like runners, we can pass on the baton of the Gospel of the good news to the generation that follows. Jesus runs with our feet and issues his invitation to all men and women through our lips and by the witness of our lives, lived in him, with him, through him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we say yes to his call we too can say, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Deacon Sandoval serves at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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