When the elderly lose their autonomy and see their “lives largely entrusted to others, largely dependent on the initiative of others”, then this life becomes “the best part” of their lives, Pope Francis said during the audience on Wednesday 22 June . .
Pope Francis continues his reflection on old age. In his fifteenth catechesis on this theme, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, St. Peter’s Square, he approached it from the “moving dialogue” between the risen Christ and Peter, reported in the Gospel of John, where Jesus speaks “exactly about old age, from the time of the testimony and from the time of life ”.
In a commentary on the dialogue between Peter and Jesus, Pope Francis humorously evoked his personal experience. About Jesus’ words to Peter: “when you grow old, you no longer have that much control over yourself and your life”, he exclaimed: “Tell me who is going to move me in a wheelchair, eh!”.
“This life of following Christ, which has necessarily become passive, consists of moving contemplation and astonished listening to the word of the Lord – just as Mary, the sister of Lazarus – will be the best part of their lives, of our lives with us, the elders, Said the pope, referring to chapter 10 of the Gospel of Luke. “And that part will never be taken from us again, ever.”
Pope Francis mentioned, among other things, the “very human” temptation, “but also very insidious”, as one gets older, to want to keep the “main role”, to seek to know who “should take his place”. Unnecessary questions, he felt. The important thing is to “follow Jesus in life and death”. “The wisdom of the elders,” continued the pope, “consists of” learning to take leave, “of” saying good-bye with a smile. “
Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ catechesis.
Pope Francis Catechesis (full text)
Dear brothers and sisters, welcome and good morning!
In our catechism journey through old age, we meditate today on the dialogue between the risen Jesus and Peter at the end of the Gospel of John (21, 15-23). It is a moving dialogue that shines through throughout Jesus’ love for his disciples, and also the sublime humanity in his relationship with them, especially with Peter: a tender relationship, but not stupid, direct, strong, free, open. … A relationship between man and man and in truth. The Gospel of John, so spiritual and so exalted, ends with an overwhelming request and offer of love, which naturally merges in a discussion between them. The evangelist warns us: he testifies to the truth of the facts (cf. John 21:24). And it is in them that we must seek the truth.
We can ask ourselves: are we able to hold on to this relationship between Jesus and his disciples, with his style so open, so honest, so direct and so human really? What is our relationship with Jesus? Is it like the apostles with him? Are we not quite often tempted to close our testimony of the gospel in the cocoon of a “sweet” revelation to which we add our honor to the occasion? In fact, this attitude, which seems to be respectful, removes us from the real Jesus and even gives rise to a very abstract, very self-referential, very worldly journey of faith that is not the way of Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God created for man, and he behaves like a man, he speaks to us like a man, God-man. With this tenderness, this friendship and this closeness. Jesus is not like these pious and adorable images, no; Jesus is at hand, he is close to us.
During Jesus’ discussion with Peter, we find two passages that specifically relate to old age and the duration of time: the time of testimony, the time of life. The first step is Jesus’ warning to Peter: When you were young, you were self-sufficient, when you are old, you will no longer have as much control over yourself and your life. Tell me who’s moving in a wheelchair, huh! But this is how life is like this: old age brings all these diseases with it, and we must accept them as they come, right? We do not have the strength of young people! And your testimony also, says Jesus, will be accompanied by this weakness. You must be a witness of Jesus, also in weakness, in sickness and in death. There is a beautiful passage from Saint Ignatius of Loyola, which says: “As in life we must also testify in death as disciples of Jesus”. The end of life must be an end to the life of disciples: of Jesus’ disciples, because the Lord speaks to us according to our age. The evangelist adds his comment and explains that Jesus was referring to extreme testimony, martyrdom and death. But we can well understand, more generally, the meaning of this warning: your way of following me will have to learn to be instructed and shaped by your fragility, by your helplessness, by your dependence on others, even on yourself. dress, to go. But you, “follow me!” (v. 19). Following Jesus always means moving forward, with good health or ill health, with autonomy and without physical autonomy, but following Jesus is important: always following Jesus, on foot, running, slowly, in a wheelchair, but still following him . The wisdom to follow Jesus must find a way to stay in his creed – this is how Peter answers: “Lord, you know everything; you know well that I love you ”(cf. vv. 15; 16; 17) – even in the limited conditions of weakness and old age. I like to talk to the elderly who see them in the eyes: they have these shining eyes, the eyes that speak to you more than words, the testimony of a lifetime. And it’s beautiful, that we have to keep it to the last. Follow Jesus like that, full of life.
This dialogue between Jesus and Peter contains a valuable lesson for all the disciples, for all of us believers. And also for all seniors. Learning from our fragility to express the coherence of our testimony of life under the conditions of a life largely entrusted to others, largely dependent on the initiative of others. With disease, with old age, dependence increases, and we are no longer autonomous as before; the dependence on others increases and also our faith matures, also there is Jesus with us who also springs the wealth of faith that is lived well on our life journey.
But we must again ask ourselves: do we have a spirituality that is truly capable of interpreting the season – now long and diffuse – of this time of our weakness entrusted to others, more than to the power of our autonomy? How can we remain faithful to a life of following Jesus, to the promised love, to the righteousness sought in the time of our initiative, in the time of our fragility, in the time of our dependence, with our farewell as we move away from the first role in our lives? It’s not easy to get away from the lead role, it’s not easy.
Of course, this new time is also a trial period. Starting with the temptation, very human, undoubtedly, but also very insidious, to retain our leading role. And sometimes this first role has to be diminished, it has to lower itself, accept that old age lowers you in your first role. But you want a different way of expressing yourself, a different way of taking part in your family, in the community, in your group of friends. And it is the curiosity that comes to Pierre: “And him? asks Peter as he sees the beloved disciple who followed them (cf. vv. 20-21). To put the nose in the lives of others. And no, Jesus said, “Shut up! Should he really stay in “my” suite? Maybe he will have to take “my” place? Will he be my successor? These questions are useless, they do not help. Should it survive me and take my place? Jesus’ answer is candid and even harsh: “What does this mean for you? You follow me!” (v. 22). This is important: to follow Jesus, to follow Jesus in life and death, in health and sickness, in life when it is prosperous with many successes and in life, even when it is difficult with many hard falls. will mix us in the lives of others, Jesus answers: “what does this mean for you? You follow me!”. It’s very beautiful. We old people should not envy the young people who go their own way, who take our place, who survive us.
The credit for our fidelity to the sworn love, the fidelity to live in the faith that we have confessed, even under the conditions that bring us closer to the end of life, it is in this regard that the following generations will admire us, and that The Lord will be grateful to us. Learning to take leave: that is the wisdom of the elderly. But say goodbye, with a smile; learn to take time off from society, to take time off from others. The life of the elderly consists of taking leave, slowly, slowly, but saying goodbye with joy: I lived my life, I kept my faith. It is beautiful when an old person can say: “I lived my life, here is my family; I lived my life, I was a sinner, but I also did good ”. And this peace that is coming is to take leave for an elderly person.
And even this life of following Christ, which has necessarily become passive, consisting of moving contemplation and astonished listening to the word of the Lord – like Mary, Lazarus’ sister – will be the best part of their lives, of our lives for us, the elderly . And this part will never again be taken from us, never (cf. Luke 10:42). Let us look at the elderly, let us look at them and help them so that they can live and express their life wisdom so that they can give us the beautiful and good in them. Look at them, listen to them. And we, the old, always look at the young with a smile: they will go their own ways, they will pursue what we have sown, and even that which we have not sown, because we did not have the courage or the opportunity: they will pursue it. But always this reciprocity: an old man can not be happy without looking at the young, and the young can not move on in life without looking at the old. Thanks.
© Translation by Zenit, Hélène Ginabat