By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
Old age is a great gift from God, full of great challenges. In our young and adult years it is relatively easy to convince ourselves that we are sufficient to ourselves. God can wait since, for all practical purposes, we consider ourselves our own gods. But after a few skirmishes with death and as our strength wanes, we are forced to face reality: we depend on God for every moment of our existence.
If we accept this grace of old age, we might also discover that every moment of our past, present and future life has been a personal gift from God who has arranged everything for our good.
Yet even for devout Christians the weakening of their physical and mental powers may cause extreme anguish: What is happening to me? Every year I can walk shorter distances; I forget more names, and, in spite of my hearing aids, I am enveloped with greater silence. What is in store for me? Am I going to be imprisoned in complete darkness and decay? Even if I believe in the immortality of my soul, I sense that I will experience the dying of my body as my own dying since my body is part of me.
From the dark abyss of nothingness, however, I hear the voice of Christ: “Do not be afraid. Just as I walked upon the dark waves of the sea of Galilee to reach my disciples, so I am waiting also for you in the darkness of your approaching death.”
This, then, is the greatest challenge of old age: the call to jump out of the boat of my fake security, walk over the waves of terror toward Jesus Christ and grab his hand so that he may not let me sink into nothingness.
The ultimate test of my faith, indeed, is to believe that by his dying Jesus conquered death and made my death the gate to life, to real life.
My few decades on earth are only preparation, a most valuable training ground for the “really real life” where love of God and neighbor and the sharing of God’s rule over creation will be our eternal present (Cf. Rev 3:21).
But here another kind of fear awaits me. In my present stage, praying even for half an hour is a taxing chore. How can I hope to spend an eternity in praise and thanksgiving, in being in eternal ecstasy (from the Greek word: ekstasis, “standing out”), that is, being eternally out of myself and given over to God and to all the inhabitants of heaven?
I regret the waste of so many years when I could have learned how to pray and how to love. But instead of sinking into despair over my failures in youth and mature age, my sorrow is accompanied by the joy that God granted me a reprieve, a time to change. I begin to see that even my repented sins of the past can become an occasion of grace: the one to whom much is forgiven, loves much, says Jesus to the sinful woman and to me (Cf. Lk 7:47). Seeing God’s mercy in my life I have the firm hope that he will transform me (here on earth and most likely finishing it up in Purgatory) to the extent that I will find God’s praise and love the unspeakable delight of my soul and (risen) flesh for all eternity.
Father Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.