Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 7, 2005
Open our hearts to elders' wisdom
The headline in The Globe and Mail read rather starkly, "Pope rejects euthanasia." Certainly he does - and we do too - but there is more to it than that.
The Globe story was based on the pope's message for Lent 2005, a message that conveyed a positive message about aging and the elderly.
The Bible sees old age as a gift, a rather different outlook than the contemporary view which often treats advanced age as a burden to be borne, full of physical suffering and loneliness.
The suffering may be there, but it can be alleviated - both through advanced medicine and the attention of others in society, especially one's family.
It is important, says the pope, that the elderly not be excluded from social life and that they be seen as "a resource to be valued." Some of that value comes from their experience in life and some comes from the wisdom that emerges as the elderly reflect on "the nearness of the final goal."
All of us can (and should) do that reflection, but for the elderly it is more intense as their remaining years dwindle in number. The perspective that comes from nearing "the final goal" is not just one more perspective among many in society. It is the one that gives meaning to all.
To treat the elderly and the dying as useless is to deny ourselves the only real wisdom we can hope for in this world. Pope John Paul speaks of a hoped-for "mutual enrichment between generations," an enrichment that could do much to soften our hard-driven consumerist society.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are a denial of so much. Above all, they deny the immeasurable value of one single life. They deny that we are creatures, not creators. We are not meant to be in control of the beginning of life, nor of the end of it.
And they also deny that the human person is transcendent. We are ordered not to mere physical survival so much as to eternal life with the Good One who encompasses all that is and that can be.
The pope's message was a message for Lent. And it is worth noting what he did not say. He did not urge the elderly to see their enfeebled state as some sort of mortification that should be "offered up." Rather, the mortification he spoke of was for all to render assistance more generously to those who are in need.
Lent should be a time to open ourselves up to the other-worldly wisdom of the elderly and those who are approaching death. It is this reflection on our heavenly destiny that can make our lives more human today and which can spur our society to be more human too.
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