One of the talks I usually give on my retreats is about the perspective that death gives to life. Realizing that we are not going to live on this earth forever should make us use the time we have well. I like to quote from Psalm 90: "Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong." Then I look out at the retreatants and observe that we have some "strong" people in the group. The psalm goes on: "Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart."
A few weeks ago I had two retreats with "strong" people. They were residents of the Little Sisters of the Poor Residences for the Elderly in Scranton, PA and Totowa, NJ. In fact one of the residents in Totowa is very "strong." He's the retired archbishop of Newark who is 101 years old.
I enjoy giving retreats to "seniors," as one person told me I should call older people. They are often forgotten and aren't mobile enough to get out to a retreat house. Society in general treats them as useless and unproductive. Yet they play a very important role in the life of society and the Church. They are wisdom figures. A comedian once said: "You don't get to be old by being a fool." I enjoyed telling those older retreatants that their prayers, joined to their sacrifices and sufferings, play an important role. And so that they would know this wasn't just my opinion, I shared with them a quote from Pope Benedict XVI. He said the following when he visited a home for the elderly November 12, 2012:
"I come to you as Bishop of Rome, but also as an old man visiting his peers. ... I would like to tell you with deep conviction: it is beautiful to be old! ... We have received the gift of longevity. Living is beautiful even at our age, despite some 'aches and pains' and a few limitations.
"In the Bible longevity is considered a blessing of God; today this blessing is widespread and must be seen as a gift to appreciate and to make the most of. And yet frequently society, dominated by the logic of efficiency and gain, does not accept it as such: on the contrary it frequently rejects it, viewing the elderly as non-productive or useless.
"When life becomes frail, in the years of old age, it never loses its value and its dignity: each one of us, at any stage of life, is wanted and loved by God, each one is important and necessary.
"Dear elderly brothers and sisters, the days sometimes seem long and empty, with difficulties, few engagements and few meetings. Never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness. And this phase of life is also a gift for deepening the relationship with God. ... Do not forget that one of the valuable resources you possess is the essential one of prayer: become interceders with God, praying with faith and with constancy. Pray for the Church, and pray for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, so that there may be no more violence in the world. The prayers of the elderly can protect the world.... The Pope loves you and relies on all of you! May you feel beloved by God and know how to bring a ray of God's love to this society of ours...."