In the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, my mother-in-law announced over the phone that one of the hardest things about losing her husband of 67 years was not having him to pray with. Her daily routine of praying alongside her beloved husband, as well as not being able to physically go to Mass, was adding to the great sadness that his death had brought.
It would have been easy to simply sympathise with her and offer some kind words of consolation. It would also have been easy to regard this loss of a shared prayer life as something quaint or sweet, but old-fashioned. These sentiments are often those of the young, and not-so-young, who are unable to appreciate how important prayer is to many people—and maybe more so for some older people.
However, in this case, and even though mother and son live 1300 kilometres away from each other, my husband offered to pray the Rosary through a video call with his mum. Over time, it has become a daily ritual, treasured by both my mother-in-law and my husband. To be sure, there is a lot of “can you hear me?” or, “I can hear you, but I can’t see you” commentary at the beginning of most calls, but, on the whole, this 90-year-old has mastered the technology very well.
During this time of prayer, special intentions are named. These intentions include worldwide concerns such as COVID-19, but also prayers for things closer to home –sick children, success in exams, treatment for cancer or for a family friend being widowed too young. It is through these prayers that my mother-in-law participates in the joys and sorrows of life as she did when she was more mobile. And, for my husband, he hears his mother’s words of wisdom, which leads him to a greater appreciation of how Christ has worked in her life of 90 years.
The need for the elderly to stay connected with their parish communities and to continue their daily prayer routines can often be overlooked by some people. But, for many older people, this spiritual need is likely to be greater than their practical needs, such as, having their lawn mown or their shopping done.
What are your thoughts on this? What can we learn from family members or those in our community who are in their twilight years? Can we nurture or sustain their spiritual life by our practical and kind actions? If you had a special prayer intention, what would it be?
Thoughts for the journey
Pope Francis is a strong advocate for grandparents and the elderly. It has been written that he knew his four grandparents as a young child and that he had a close relationship with at least one of them who strongly nurtured his faith.
In 2016, he wrote a document called Amoris Laetitia—The Joy of Love in English—where he reflected on the great value of older people and the need for younger people to respect and connect with them. He wrote:
193. The lack of historical memory is a serious shortcoming in our society. A mentality that can only say, “Then was then, now is now”, is ultimately immature. Knowing and judging past events is the only way to build a meaningful future. Memory is necessary for growth: “Recall the former days” (Heb 10:32). Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families, their neighbourhoods and their country. A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future. “A society that has no room for the elderly or discards them because they create problems, has a deadly virus”, “it is torn from its roots”. Our contemporary experience of being orphans as a result of cultural discontinuity, uprootedness and the collapse of the certainties that shape our lives, challenges us to make our families places where children can sink roots in the rich soil of a collective history.
I imagine that Pope Francis was suggesting that we should “cherish” more than just the spiritual wisdom that elderly people can offer. However, his words should cause us to pause and think. What is it about the spiritual life of many elderly people that makes it so important to them? Does faith in God guide their decision-making? Does faith give them hope for what might come after their life on earth?
These are big questions! Remember, life is short, so if you have questions about the faith life that might have sustained the older people in your life, then now’s the time to pick their brain…
Day of the Elderly and Grandparents
In January, Pope Francis announced the establishment of an international day to honour grandparents and the elderly. To coincide with the feast day of Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne, the celebration will be held on the fourth Sunday of July, this year the 25th.
During the announcement, the Pope said:
“The Holy Spirit… arouses thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly today: their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and guards the roots of peoples. They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, to transmit to young people an experience of life and faith.”
How might you mark this special day?
 Pope Francis: Catechesis, 4 March 2015
 Address at the Meeting with the Elderly, 28 September 2014
Words: Sharon Brewer