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Pope wonders if parishes have a death ministry



Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 08/11/22

"Our stable place, our destination is not here; it is beside the Lord, where he dwells forever. ... Time passes, yes, but this is not a threat, it is a promise."

Pope Francis gave his last catechesis on the theme of the elderly at this week’s general audience on August 10.

As he has highlighted numerous times during this teaching series, the Pope believes that old age is a gift and the elderly have a particular vocation and mission in the Church.

The Holy Father again pointed out that the elderly are in an important state of life, because they are the ones focused on life’s “true destination.”

And what is the true destination of life? A place at the table with God, in the world of God.

“The elderly man and woman are waiting, waiting for an encounter,” he said.

The Pope compared life on earth to a novitiate, which is the initial, preparatory stage of religious life, before the young woman or man makes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. He also used the image of being apprentices.

Our life is not made to be wrapped up in itself, in an imaginary earthly perfection: It is destined to go beyond, through the passage of death – because death is a passage. Indeed, our stable place, our destination is not here; it is beside the Lord, where he dwells forever.

Here, on earth, the process of our “novitiate” begins: We are apprentices of life, who – amid a thousand difficulties – learn to appreciate God’s gift, honoring the responsibility of sharing it and making it bear fruit for everyone. The time of life on earth is the grace of this passage. The conceit of stopping time – of wanting eternal youth, unlimited wellbeing, absolute power – is not only impossible, it is delusional.

Do parishes help?

In this context, the Pope wondered if parishes support and promote this stage of life?

It would be interesting to see whether in the local Churches there is any specific reference intended to revitalize this special ministry of awaiting the Lord – it is a ministry, the ministry of awaiting the Lord – encouraging individual charisms and community qualities of the elderly person.

This state of life is important for the Church itself, the Pope added, as it reminds us that the Church is not made to be like the world:

Old age lived with gentleness, lived with respect for real life, definitively dissolves the misconception of a Church that adapts to the worldly condition, thinking that by so doing it can definitively govern its perfection and fulfilment. 

Joyful news

For Pope Francis, “Old age is the phase in life most suited to spreading the joyful news that life is the initiation to a final fulfillment.”

Our existence on earth is the time of the initiation of life: It is life, but one that leads you towards a fuller life, the initiation of the fuller one; a life which finds fulfillment only in God. 

“Old age is credible when it invites one to rejoice in the passing of time: but time passes … Yes, but this is not a threat, it is a promise,” he said.

The elderly are a promise, a witness of promise. And the best is yet to come. The best is yet to come: It is like the message of elderly believers, the best is yet to come. May God grant us all an old age capable of this!

DeathElderlyPope FrancisSpiritual Life
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