Aging with grace: An internal renewal

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].”

 

COMING UP: Here’s what 65 years of marriage looks like

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While divorces are still very common and the average age of young people marrying is older every year (for men, it’s almost 30; for women it’s about 27), true love still exists.

But it doesn’t look the way the world imagines it to be: Heart-pounding, butterfly-stomach, head-over-heels, warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s much deeper.

For Bill and Fran Chism, 89 and 91, who celebrate 65 years of marriage this year, it looks more like faithfulness — especially in the difficulties of life.

Four years ago, Fran broke her hip and her health quickly declined. Soon, she was diagnosed with dementia.

“We thought we were going to lose her a couple times in the hospital,” Bill said. “She had an upper chest infection…her memory was slipping away, and then she got shingles last September, and that just wiped out her memory.”

Bill put her in a memory care facility so she could have help being cared for; but even then, he was still with her most of the day, getting her up for breakfast and putting her to bed at night.

Just a month ago, Bill took Fran home to care for her on his own — even getting a knee replacement a year ago at the age of 88 so that he would be able to take care of his wife.

“[He] thought he wouldn’t be able to take care of her the way he’d need to with the pain and the problems with the knee,” said Dede Chism, Bill’s daughter-in-law.

So, despite the doctor pushing back due to his age, Bill convinced him to do the knee replacement. It wasn’t long before he was taking walks around the park again and caring for Fran.

Now, though her memory suffers, Fran is able to do most things on her own, and Bill cares for her every day in their quiet home.

 

Early days

Bill and Fran met in Downtown Denver at a dance, and initially, Fran wouldn’t marry him because he wasn’t Catholic. After talking to a priest about the issue, he decided to become Catholic after his term with the navy was over. World War II was just ending; he would later serve in the Korean war as well.

After that, Fran agreed, and they married in 1952 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. They drove from Colorado to San Francisco, Calif., where Bill would ship out only 10 months after marrying Fran.

They were also expecting their first son.

“I was shipping out and she was due, that was tough,” Bill said. “I told the doctor…I hope she can have the baby before I leave…sometimes if you give them castor oil, it’ll induce. She didn’t need it. We just got back and she started having pains. Took her [to the hospital] and was told, ‘Oh you better go back home, she’ll be here all night.’

“I no sooner left than she went into labor and she had a hard time with our first son, he was nine pounds, and she’s kinda small. So I wasn’t there when he was born, but I got the word after he was born that it’s all over now; they told me it wouldn’t happen till morning,” Bill said.

Bill and Fran Chism celebrate 65 years of marriage together this year. Married in 1952, they have three sons, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

The couple went on to have three boys, five grandchildren and now have 11 great-grandchildren. It wasn’t until having a couple kids that Bill was able to join the Catholic Church, in 1960.

“It took a while to get around to it, and I took instructions,” Bill said. “She knew how to pray, I didn’t, I still have a little difficulty with it.”

The couple practiced their faith together in the form of praying every night before bed with one another.

 

‘I do means I do’

So what’s kept their marriage strong through all the “ups and downs” of life: Wars, sicknesses, deaths in the family?

“Commitment,” Bill said. “When we got married, we made a commitment. That’s what’s holding us together. With me, when I make a commitment, I stick with it.

“Oh, we’ve had our ups and downs. Not fights, but misunderstandings or arguments. But it wouldn’t be life if you didn’t,” he added.

According to Bill’s son, Ken Chism, the couple believes they’re just ordinary, simple people, and they are. But the simple example of true love in a marriage that’s weathered many joys and struggles in the family is an example that’s sorely needed today, Ken said.

“He said I don’t know why you want to hear from me, we’re just simple people,” Ken said. “The fact of the matter is, the simplest truth is that you don’t have to know all of the theology. What you need to know is God has called you, and with that ‘I do,’ that God’s grace and his love is enough.”

“[Bill] said, ‘When I said I do, I do,’” he continued. “The problem is so many people find ‘I don’ts’ to put in that, instead of always ‘I do.’ You can’t have anything that you’re not willing to do, or your relationship will fail. And that’s both [spouses]. Both have to have that attitude. So for me to watch what’s happened the last five years especially…you don’t know what you’ve got to live with. And he’s lived out the ‘I do’ like no one I’ve ever seen. And it’s very, very special to be able to watch that.”

You can’t have anything that you’re not willing to do, or your relationship will fail. And that’s both [spouses]. Both have to have that attitude.

Dede said that though Bill and Fran have weathered every decade where marriage looked so different, God has remained the foundation, which never changes.

“A marriage grounded in faith and Christ is a marriage that will succeed, regardless of what comes your way, because God succeeds,” she said. “And I would say that that one thing is the center of our marriage. Wars, sicknesses…you can survive anything because with God, all things are possible.”

 

Couples celebrating 25, 50 or 50+ years of marriage this year are invited to the annual Anniversary Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn. Bishop Jorge Rodriguez will be the celebrant, and cake and coffee reception will follow. For more information, contact Jennifer Sharn at 303-715-3252 or jennifer.sharn@archden.org.