Denver’s blessing for elderly in lockstep with pope

Denver-area Catholics will follow the lead of Pope Francis next week and unroll a blessing for grandparents and the elderly in recognition of their role and value in society.

As Pope Francis gathers the elderly Sept. 28 in St. Peter’s Square for “The Blessing of a Long Life,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila encourages pastors to give a blessing to the aged in their own parishes the same Sunday.

“Our parishes and communities are enriched by the elderly who make up a vital part of our spiritual family, the Church,” the archbishop wrote to parish priests this month. “Too often, these people are overlooked by a society that emphasizes productivity and forgets the immense value of wisdom born from experience and faith and perseverance in the face of hardship, including the sufferings of old age.”

The family has become one of the themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate. The blessing precedes his extraordinary general assembly on the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” Oct. 5-19. The assembly is a precursor to the general synod of bishops in October 2015 on the same topic.

This topic of family includes the elderly, who preserve the memory and history of a community.

“A people who don’t protect their elderly, who don’t take care for their young, is a people without a future, a people without hope. Because the young—the children, the youth—and the old carry history forward,” Pope Francis said June 15 in Rome. “The children, the young rightly have their biological strength. The elderly offer their memory. But when a community loses its memory, it’s over, it’s over.”

David Uebbing, chancellor of the archdiocese, said the archbishop sent a letter to parish priests with suggested prayer intentions, a blessing that can be read at the end of Mass, and homily notes.

“We don’t want people to think of the family as only those with young children,” Uebbing said. “The family includes grandparents and the elderly as well. They play a real role in the family and it must not be neglected.”

The prayer and blessing for elderly is adapted from a prayer by St. John Paul II in 1999.

Prayer and Blessing for the Elderly
Grant, O Lord of life,
That we may savor every season of our lives as a gift filled with promise for the future.
Grant that we may lovingly accept your will,
and place ourselves each day in your merciful hands.
And when the moment of our definitive “passage” comes,
grant that we may face it with serenity,
without regret for what we shall leave behind.
For in meeting you, after having sought you for so long,
we shall find once more every authentic good which we have known here on earth,
in the company of all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and hope.
Bless our elders. Strengthened by your blessing, may they always be thankful to you and bless you with unending joy.
May Mary, Mother of pilgrim humanity,
pray for us “now and at the hour of our death.”
Keep us ever close to Jesus, your beloved Son and our brother,
the Lord of life and glory. Amen.
Approved by Archbishop Samuel Aquila in the Denver Archdiocese

 

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.