The following is an abridged version of an article written by Anne Valentyne that originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ March and April 2006 newsletter. Its message is of such great value, we believe it is important to share it again now. It can also be found in our Renewal Ministries’ July, 2018 newsletter.
I once read a meditation that said,
Everything about life has been carefully attended to so you could fulfill your destiny, and God is always with you to help you. None of us is just a random occurrence. We have not been left here to evolve alone. Every one of our lives fits into a master plan, something we can learn about and embrace as we spend time in prayer and Scripture. Parts of this plan are common to all of us. For example, we know that God wants us to be holy and full of love and praise for Him (Eph 14:16). But each of us is designed to fulfill these callings in our own unique way. (The Word Among Us, Advent 2004)
The Lord is with us from birth to death, and this includes our senior years.
Our years after age seventy are frequently referred to as “The Golden Years.” Yet the ills of aging often don’t appear golden. Can they be? Yes! They are golden for those who have given their lives to Jesus. Regardless of our income, we are rich in the things of God and His Church! These years are a part of God’s will and plan. “Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14). We are in the final years of our pilgrimage to that city of eternal bliss, of total union with the Trinity.
These years afford us our last opportunity to be purified and ready to see God. Suffering is not good in itself, but God brings good out of it. Our aging, sufferings, and death can become what Fr. Gabriel of St. Magdalene, OCD, terms a “mystical purgatory,” through which we expiate our sins, intercede for others, and at the same time grow in our love for God.
It is humbling to not be able to walk without assistance, but out of love for God, I can accept this suffering as expiation for my sins of pride. When it takes longer to dress myself because of arthritis in my hands, or I need to wait for somebody to pick me up, because I can no longer drive, I can say, “Jesus, I’ll be patient in this difficulty. I want to lovingly accept this purification of my sins of impatience.”
Sometimes, we may need to give up very spiritual things, like driving or walking to Mass every day, or our activity in our local church. There are so many things we can’t do any more, and it seems like such a loss. As we suffer these voids in our life, we can trust that God is using them to open up in us a greater capacity to receive His love and to love Him in return. Jesus took upon Himself the full weight of human suffering, so to transform it into a means of salvation and endless happiness in that blessed place where there will be no more pain. In anticipation of that blessedness, Jesus brings a deep and real joy to all suffering and tribulations.
These years also afford us opportunities to suffer in a paschal manner. When Sr. Lucia of Fatima was dying, Pope John Paul II sent her a letter that reminded her to accept her final suffering and death as “paschal suffering.” Suffering in a paschal way means uniting our sufferings with Jesus’ in His bitter passion and death—and in the victory of His resurrection. As we let the thread of His resurrection permeate our sufferings, we can experience the triumph, joy, and peace of Jesus’ resurrection, trusting that we will have an eternity of total union with the Blessed Trinity.
Shortly after writing to Sr. Lucia, John Paul II entered into his own final weeks of suffering and personally witnessed to what paschal suffering means. At the end of his life, and during the many struggles that preceded it, he lived the words of St. Paul:
We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor 4:7-11)
Pope John Paul II made his sufferings an altar on which he offered himself to God.
Knowing that my senior years are an important part of my sanctification—that I can still work for the Kingdom—has helped me very much. I need to set aside time for prayer and Scripture reading every day. Days become busy, even in retirement, and time for prayer can be crowded out. When I am faithful to prayer, God continually draws me more into loving Him and letting Him love me.
Prayer allows what I endure to be redemptive. My sufferings can have eternal value for me, for the Church, and for the world. I am partnering with Jesus in His redemptive work for the Church—establishing His Kingdom here on earth!
I recently read a meditation on Luke 5:11:
We may not see 3,000 people come to Christ in one day. Still, Jesus did call us the light of the world. Let’s not hide that light under a basket! Our words and actions do matter. We really bring Christ with us into every situation we enter. Our prayers of intercession really can transform others’ circumstances and change their hearts. We really can ‘catch people’ for God’s kingdom! (The Word Among Us, September 2005)
Jesus gave us the great commandment to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind (Mt 22:38). He added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As we age, we may no longer get out to actively serve, but we can love all we relate to. We can exude the love of Jesus, because we have made our afflictions an altar on which we offer ourselves to God, and Jesus is on that altar with us. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta encouraged people to give Jesus to others by example—by being in love with Jesus, radiating His holiness, and spreading His fragrance of love everywhere.
Although I may not be able to be physically active, I am still a child of the Church through baptism, and I share in its rich life. I can do this in many ways: meditating on daily Mass readings; expressing my deep desire to receive Jesus spiritually, when I can’t receive Him in Holy Communion; and reciting the Communion prayers and the prayers after Communion to help enkindle my desire to receive Him.
I also remain interested in what is going on in the universal Church and my parish: Someone brings me the weekly bulletin, so I can pray for parish activities. I make financial contributions. And someone from the parish brings me Holy Communion.
Our senior years can be as golden as we make them. Thank You, Jesus, for the abundance of grace that You give as we draw near the end of our journey. You designed these years so they can give us the inner strength and understanding that our earthly losses require. You give us unlimited trust as we suffer voids and detachments. What seems like diminishment serves to enlarge us, to give us more wisdom. Help me believe You are hollowing out in my soul greater capacities to receive You. Help me look at each trial as a proof of Your love and desire to unite me more to Yourself. Fill the voids with Your love.
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