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Sunday, 22 December 2013

On Aging and Sainthood : The Habits of Old Age Are Formed in Youth

Because I am approaching a mile-stone birthday, I have been reflecting on aging and the growth of holiness, by examining some of the lives of the saints who lived to be older and old, and by looking at older and old people in the society in which I live.

I have noticed that saints who lived to be old, that is, into their 80s, have a different path than those who die young.

Most of the really young saints achieved holiness quickly, and we can look at the lives of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Siena as examples of meteor-like saints.

(I am omitting martyrs, who achieve holiness through the witness of their blood, such as Blessed Titus Brandsma or St. Lucy).

Those saints who lived to middle or old age had a path which is not as extreme, or clear as those who were young saints.

Some saints died in early middle age or middle-middle age, such as St. John of the Cross (49), St. Teresa of Avila (67) or St. Camillus of Lilles, (64).

Many modern saints died over the age of seventy, such as St. John of Avila, St. Padre Pio, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed John Paul II.

Those saints who lived to be over 80 had much suffering to bear in the world--years and years of suffering.

What I am interested in are the patterns of holiness depicted by those who lived to be old or older saints.

By old, I mean over 80. By older, I mean over 65.

I see five traits which separate the saints from those who have not achieved sanctity on earth.

First, a deep and consistent habit of prayer. All the saints, lay or religious or clergy, who have been canonized after living long lives had long years of the practice of prayer. This would have included all the six levels of prayer discussed on this blog.

Second, the intense love of God, especially Jesus in the Eucharist, marks the older saint. A love of Jesus, that "personal relationship" whether warm and fuzzy or distant and painful, defines the older saint.

Third, a great love of the Catholic Church. This is seen clearly in both the lay saints who lived to be old, such as Blessed Louis Martin (71), or religious, or clergy.

Fourth, a call to suffering physically, spiritually, emotionally, or mentally, or all these types of pain. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Pio, (Padre Pio), are great examples of prolonged suffering, as is Blessed John Paul II.

Fifth, the ability to change and grow in holiness. This is what is missing in the society in which I live-the ability to change. Repentance is change. Too many old people, (and do we not say this), "are stuck in their ways."

The saint is never stuck in his or her own ways-never. A healthy personality is open to change, to new encounters with God, with grace.

The saddest thing for me to see in this aging parishes are people who are stuck in consumerism, materialism, trivia, and not preparing for death, not following the path of holiness.

Saints never "retire" from the Church Militant. Saints never retire to self-centered lives.

I give this warning to all my readers. Do not get stuck in your ways. Be open to you changing, your conditions changing, your lifestyle changing. Learn the ways of holiness early, as the habits of old age are the habits of youth.

We are pilgrims on this earth and the great lie of working for retirement, that long hiatus of holidays and comfort, may not lead one to God. I see in the shops, in church, in the restaurants crabby, grumpy, people who have not allowed God to change them.

A personality which can change is one God can bless and use.

God makes new doughnuts every day. Be aware, pay attention. Do not grow old either rebelling against God, or ignoring Him.

If one is struck with a disease in old age, which ends the process of growth, let us pray we have met God in the place where He has called us. Otherwise, we shall see purgatory.

to be continued...