The Bible often associates the passing of age with wisdom, reverence and fruitfulness. “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day” (2 Cor 4:16), St. Paul says. Giving of oneself to God and others throughout life is accompanied by physical struggles and weaknesses that only grow with time. Nonetheless, the journey to our celestial home is also marked by the work of God in our hearts, who purifies and prepares it for home. A few members of the Archdiocese of Denver have shared with the Denver Catholic their experiences of how their spirituality has changed over the years and how they have experienced it in others during their time in ministry.
“Physically, it’s easy to determine when people approach the old age because there are visible changes that manifest this stage. However, it’s harder to perceive specific signs in the spiritual sphere that characterize it,” said Sister Martha Patricia Malacara, Local Superior of the Allied Discalced Carmelites of the Holy Trinity in Denver.
Nonetheless, in her experience working with the elderly in Mexico, where her religious order is based, Sister Malacara has seen that many obtain a deeper awareness of God in their heart.
“Physically, their strength begins to drain, and they are unable to perform certain tasks. However, to meditate, reflect, encounter and talk with God, it’s enough for them to call upon him in the depths of their hearts, even when they forget their prayers or are unable to pray verbally,” she said.
Sister Malacara also expressed the sadness that she and her sisters have experienced when serving in nursing homes.
“From our experience we can share that each elderly person we served had their own life story, their own past, which in some cases provided for them an opportunity to grow in faith, trust, gratitude and abandonment in God,” she explained. “Sadly, in others, [their past] caused in them aversion, resentment and even disbelief. Our mission was to invite them, with our testimony of life and word, to open up and seek an encounter with the living God.”
A deeper contemplation
For Father Thomas McCormick, 85, retired priest of the Archdiocese of Denver, the passing of time has brought for him a deepening in contemplative prayer which has allowed him to experience and interpret life events in a different light.
“The hours of prayer and prayer life are very much the same for me, but easier. The element of contemplation is deeper, to be contemplative in the midst of the world,” he said. “For example, it’s easier to associate the news, the headlines and the challenges of the Church. It’s easier to make the connection between God’s presence and the issues of our times.”
Father McCormick owes his growing contemplation to the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests, a brotherhood of priests, with a spirituality based on that of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who gather in a small group every month to pray with the Scriptures and before the Blessed Sacrament, and share with their fellow priests about their ministries and struggles.
In the many countries he has visited to evangelize and the numerous ministries he has carried out as a priest, the accountability aspect of this type of spirituality has allowed him to grow and carry on his mission into retirement.
“It’s a very healthy spirituality that has been a part of my life and has kept me in the priesthood and nourished my exposure to priests from all around the world,” he assured. “There is accountability: Are you praying? How does this or that affect your daily prayer, your way of life, your use of time and money?
“This prayer style was not only present in my ministry but has continued into my retirement.”
So much is the case that even in his retirement, he desires to keep serving God as much as he can. “If you can walk and drive, you can help out,” he said with a smile. Father McCormick celebrates Masses and covers for priests nearly on a daily basis, from hospital visits to memorial services.
He believes that such energy comes from the deeper desire that has led his priestly life: “to do the will of the Father.”
With age he has grown in the awareness of God’s will, constantly asking himself: “Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now?”
To this day, he faithfully recites one of his favorite prayers, the prayer of abandonment of Blessed Charles de Foucauld: “Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will… I am ready for all, I accept all…”
Turning to the Lord more
As a layman, Michael Wright, 74, long-term parishioner at Spirit of Christ Parish in Denver, also described that in his journey of faith, growth and desire have marked his life after retirement, even despite the physical challenges.
“Overall I have experienced growth in this stage of my life [after retirement]. And I say that because I have been able to attend Mass more regularly, I was able to graduate from the Denver Catholic Biblical School with my wife and I’ve been involved in Bible studies at the parish,” he said.
“One of the biggest challenges is energy. As I get older the energy goes and it’s easier to sit [at] home than get up and go to Mass,” he continued. “Also mentally, as you get into the 70s, everything gets harder.”
Yet, Wright assures that these challenges have helped him draw closer to God: “Now I’m not as sharp as I used to be, but for that same reason I turn to the Lord a lot more. I open up and go to Mass a lot more.”
One of the aspects that has improved his prayer life has been losing many family members and friends. “It’s easier to think of them and pray for them, and it adds a deeper sense to my prayer.”
When asked what he sought from God in this stage of his life that was different, he quickly answered: “Peace — and yet, if that is not his will, then the ability to cope with [whatever may come].”