(with apologies to 'Richard III')
Let’s face it. Much of our lives are uneventful. Hopefully we do have high points when we can celebrate and enjoy ourselves. But for much of the time we live a monotonous routine. We may well ask, ‘What’s the point?’
The Church comes up with a brilliant answer. It sanctifies the tedium of life with what we call ‘Ordinary Time.’ That’s when we’re not preparing for great liturgical festivals or actually celebrating them, but just getting on with the routine of following Jesus in our daily lives. About 30 years of His short life were as mundane and humdrum as ours. From infancy, through childhood, youth and manhood He was being prepared to carry out His saving mission. Each stage of that preparation was vital to His success.
For Jesus and for us Ordinary Time is Sacred Time. It’s in the routine of our daily lives that we love and serve God and each other. In this He draws close to us, and we to Him. Each stage of our Ordinary Time is meant to help us on our journey to the Kingdom of Heaven. The routine will vary as we develop and grow from being an infant, then a child, then an adult.
As I approach 85 I have a special interest in making sense of what the Ordinary Time of ageing can mean for me and others like me. With God’s help I need to see if the autumn of my life can become the fruitful and positive climax to my vocation to follow Christ.
Increasingly that’s meaning not being active, but sharing in our saviour’s weakness and vulnerability. Through us sick and frail people the Church identifies with the crucified Christ and shares in His redemptive suffering, (cf. Col. 1. 24). We are called to witness that lives like ours are not a meaningless waste, but an essential part of the life of the Church. Ours is a difficult vocation; we need and value the respect and support of those who are active.
People like me are often accused of living in the past. Certainly we can be crashing bores as we reminisce about the ‘good old days.’ But for most of us oldies our faith shifts our perspective. Instead of looking back, we look forward. We’re not so much preparing for death, but for eternal life. As I contemplate the sunset of death I look forward to the sunrise of the resurrection. My longing to dwell in the house of the Lord increases as that approaches. I’m like an old horse which gets excited as it nears home!
One of the things about extreme old age is that you survive your contemporaries. Gradually they’re stripped away and you’re left alone. Since they were part of your life, with their death, part of you dies. And in many other ways ageing strips us of our various props and supports. That must mean coming to terms with my mind and various parts of my body wearing out and breaking down. Though this is frustrating, so far I’ve been spared any great pain or disability.
For me the Ordinary Time of ageing forces me to let go, to give back to God -my physical and mental strengths, my loved ones, my mobility, the opportunities to be an active Dominican.
The more I have to surrender, the more I’m challenged to trust, to believe that God’s hands will sustain me and bring me to my heavenly home with Him. As death knocks away the final prop, I’m called to pray with the dying Jesus, “Father into your hands I commend my life, and death.”
Letting go of everything and trusting in the Lord -that’s what I must do during the Ordinary Time, the Autumn, of my Old Age.
Isidore Clarke O.P.
Isidore Clarke O.P.