Senior citizens, you’re not off the hook

When it comes to doing the Lord’s work, all are called to do their part. There are several examples in the Bible of people being “advanced in years” (Luke 2: 36) when they were called to serve.

“It’s pretty amazing when you look at the Scriptures, coming to the senior citizen age doesn’t mean you’re off the hook in doing things for the kingdom,” explained Ben Akers, former director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School.

Below are a few examples of biblical seniors who ministered well into their golden years.

Abraham and Sarah
Abraham was 75 years old when he was called from his hometown, friends, family—his whole life in Ur of the Chaldeans to travel to the Holy Land (Gen 12:4).

“He’s called by God to leave all that for a land he hadn’t seen,” Akers said.

Abraham trusted God and headed out with his wife Sarah, 65.

“The couple is barren,” Akers explained. “(And God said) I’m going to make you a father, and you, Sarah, a mother.”

Twenty-five years later Isaac was born.

“It’s a long time before he actually receives what God will bless him with,” he said.

Abraham was 100 when God’s promise was fulfilled, and Sarah was 90 when she became a mother.

“God oftentimes makes us wait,” he said. “But God is never late; it’s not always according to our method of reckoning time. In God’s providence, he’s always on time.”

Moses spent 40 years being raised in Egypt in the house of Pharaoh. After murdering an Egyptian, he spent 40 years in exile as a shepherd in the desert (Acts 7:23). He was 80 when he heard God speak to him through the bush at Sinai (Acts 7:30).

“Maybe he’s thinking about retirement when God says: ‘I want you to go back to Egypt and bring all the people out,’” Akers said. “Then think of all the things that happened: 10 plagues, parting of the Red Sea, the manna, wandering in the desert.”

For 40 years, Moses had been educated in Egypt learning the language and the laws; then for another 40 years he received a different type of education.

“In Egypt he received the best education you could receive at the time, that’s why he was able to write the first five books of the Old Testament,” said Akers. “Then he spends 40 years in the desert where they’ll end up wandering, so he knows all the water holes, all the places to go.

“After 80 years of preparation, God said: ‘Now you’re ready.’”

Moses served till he was 120 (Deut 34: 7).

Simeon and Anna
Simeon was first introduced when Jesus was presented in the temple 40 days after his birth (Luke 2: 22-28). According to Scripture he was “righteous and devout” and it had been revealed to him “that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

“It actually doesn’t tell us how old he is, but tradition has always told us he was an elderly man,” Akers said. “He’s in the temple, he’s praying, he’s righteous, devout … it was a beautiful gift that he would see the consolation of Israel.”

Simeon immediately recognized the Holy Family when they entered the temple.

“He recognizes Christ in this little baby, with this young couple,” Akers said. “I mean, how many young couples were there? This was what the Jewish people did according to the law—and he recognized him as the promised Messiah.”

A prophetess Anna was praying in the temple as well.

“Anna is old we know for sure,” Akers said, quoting “she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity,  and as a widow till she was eighty-four (Luke 2:36-38).”

There are different translations of her age, according to Akers.

“She’s either 84 years old,” he said. “Or she was a widow for 84 years; either way she’s old.”

Anna never departed from the temple “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

“She dedicated her whole life after her marriage to prayer,” he said. “It’s a beautiful witness of an elderly couple witnessing to the Christ child.”

There are a lot of beautiful things the elderly can do to build their faith and share it with others, Akers said.

“No matter what age you are, there’s always a chance to rededicate and reorient yourself to Christ in a deeper way,” he said. “Ask God: What can I do now? What are you asking me to do? What from my past has prepared me to serve the Church in a particular way?”

Ways to build the kingdom as a senior citizen
Teach in a parish
Make rosaries
Support missions financially
Encourage young parents at Mass
Teach life skills
Model the commitment of married love
Unite physical suffering with the cross
Mentor young people
Spend time with family and friends

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.