Continuing his catechesis on the value of the elderly and old age at the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis reflects on the Biblical figure of Nicodemus, and says the elderly are messengers of tenderness, wisdom and love.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
The tenderness of the elderly shows us the tenderness of God.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
Pope Francis stressed this during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, as he continued his series of catecheses “on the meaning and value of old age in the light of God’s Word.” He reflected this week on the New Testament figure of Nicodemus.
The Pope said he wished to emphasize “the tenderness of the elderly” and grandparents, highlighting how God is equally tender with us.
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
“Watch how a grandfather or a grandmother look at their grandchildren, how they embrace their grandchildren – that tenderness, free of any human distress, that has conquered the trials of life and is able to give love freely, the loving nearness of one person to others.”
This tenderness, he said, opens the door toward understanding God’s tenderness.
“This is what God is like, He knows how to embrace. And old age helps us understand this aspect of God who is tenderness.”
Born anew, not living forever
The Pope considered the words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew” (Jn 3:3) by water and the Holy Spirit.
This spiritual rebirth, the Pope suggested, does not negate or detract from the value of our earthly existence, but “points it towards its ultimate fulfilment in the eternal life and joy of heaven.”
Our age, with its frantic pursuit of the myth of eternal youth, the Holy Father underscored, needs to relearn this truth and to see every age of life as preparation for the eternal happiness for which we were created.
Jesus had told Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”
Witness to God’s presence in our midst
The elderly, through their faith, wisdom and experience, can bear convincing witness to the presence of God’s kingdom in our midst and the authentic meaning of our earthly existence as a foretaste of that true “eternal youth” which awaits us in the new creation inaugurated by Christ and his Holy Spirit.
The Holy Father highlighted the beauty of old age.
“Old age moves ahead toward its destination, towards God’s heaven,” he said.
“Old age, therefore, is a special time of separating the future from the illusion of a biological and robotic survival, especially because it opens us to the tenderness of God’s creative and generative womb.”
The prince of darkness, who has so long bent the powers of his mastermind to the work of deception, skillfully adapts his temptations to men of all classes and conditions. To persons of culture and refinement he presents spiritualism in its more refined and intellectual aspects, and thus succeeds in drawing many into his snare. The wisdom which spiritualism imparts is that described by the apostle James, which “descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” James 3:15. This, however, the great deceiver conceals when concealment will best suit his purpose. He who could appear clothed with the brightness of the heavenly seraphs before Christ in the wilderness of temptation, comes to men in the most attractive manner as an angel of light. He appeals to the reason by the presentation of elevating themes; he delights the fancy with enrapturing scenes; and he enlists the affections by his eloquent portrayals of love and charity. He excites the imagination to lofty flights, leading men to take so great pride in their own wisdom that in their hearts they despise the Eternal One. That mighty being who could take the world’s Redeemer to an exceedingly high mountain and bring before Him all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them, will present his temptations to men in a manner to pervert the senses of all who are not shielded by divine power.
Satan beguiles men now as he beguiled Eve in Eden by flattery, by kindling a desire to obtain forbidden knowledge, by exciting ambition for self-exaltation. It was cherishing these evils that caused his fall, and through them he aims to compass the ruin of men. “Ye shall be as gods,” he declares, “knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5. Spiritualism teaches “that man is the creature of progression; that it is his destiny from his birth to progress, even to eternity, toward the Godhead.” And again: “Each mind will judge itself and not another.” “The judgment will be right, because it is the judgment of self…. The throne is within you.” Said a spiritualistic teacher, as the “spiritual consciousness” awoke within him: “My fellow men, all were unfallen demigods.” And another declares: “Any just and perfect being is Christ.”
Thus, in place of the righteousness and perfection of the infinite God, the true object of adoration; in place of the perfect righteousness of His law, the true standard of human attainment, Satan has substituted the sinful, erring nature of man himself as the only object of adoration, the only rule of judgment, or standard of character. This is progress, not upward, but downward. GC 553.3 – GC 554.2
Pope Francis concluded by praying, “May the Spirit grant us the re-opening of this spiritual – and cultural – mission of old age that reconciles us with the birth from above.”
“When we think of old age like this, we can say – why has this throw-away culture decided to throw out the elderly, considering them useless? The elderly are the messengers of the future, the elderly are the messengers of tenderness, the elderly are the messengers of the wisdom of lived experience. Let us move forward and watch the elderly.”