Written on: October 4, 2023
A good friend of mine has been urging me not to worry nor even imagine that I may not have many more years to live. Who knows? Rather, she suggests I focus on doing everything I can to stay healthy as long as possible. She recommends, as do many health experts, that I recognize that life probably has much more to offer me and that perhaps I have much more to offer others. Good advice! It contradicts our society’s ageism, which tends to emphasize limits and ignore possibilities.
I have been a member of a community of Catholic Sisters for almost sixty years. At this time in my community’s 102nd year, we have four Sisters celebrating 60 years; one celebrating 70 years, and two celebrating 75 years of life as Catholic nuns. Almost everyone in the community has celebrated at least a golden anniversary, so we are no “spring chickens”.
And among us we have lived and served in places as close as Elkins Park, as far as Lima, Peru, and dozens of sites between. We have been teachers and principals, college professors, social workers helping seniors, children, and prisoners. We have been counselors, nurses, musicians, missionaries, physical therapists – and so much more. Who are we now that we are older and no longer all that we were?
A translation of Psalm 71 from the Hebrew scriptures reads,
Now that I am old and gray, O Lord, forsake me not.
And in the Book of the prophet, Isaiah, we hear God’s promise:
I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. (Isaiah 46:4)
As women of faith, we help each other answer the question: “Who are we now?” Whether 70 or 94 or 100, we are still Sisters, enriched and supported by our belonging to this community, collaborating with and supported by staff who work with us and love us, and still reaching out to others in a myriad of ways.
Ageism tells us that we’re “too old” to do this or that, that we’re no longer useful, that we don’t have much to offer. But my religious community and all those who are part of our lives (colleagues and associates, friends, family) challenge every ridiculous ageist attitude.
We are older, but life still has more to offer us, and we still have more to offer. Just chat with our Sister Eileen Murray, who in a few days celebrates 100 years of vibrant living, even from her hospital bed.
I see it every day — one who suffers from dementia pushes a Sister friend in a wheelchair to ensure that she can join the group for dinner. One who uses a walker shares the latest adventures at the food pantry she has run once a month for the last 25 years in Queens. Another looks after a gentleman who recently became a widower.
Several Sisters help each other respond to calls for legislative advocacy on behalf of the refugees, the workers, the mothers and children, and our Earth. Another elder makes birthday dessert for each of her 17 companions at the apartment complex where they live. One Sister’s aide wheels her to visit Sisters and other residents.
Together, we share memories and hopes, photos and faith, prayer and thanksgiving. We are retired, but as women of faith, we discourage one another from ceasing to learn, to teach, to grow. We don’t retire from our life as women religious, that is, from prayer, service, and care of one another and whomever life places before us.
We Catholic Sisters reject ageism. But all of us need to do that. In the Christian New Testament, St. Paul writes to the new Christians in Corinth the words we can all take to heart as we grow older:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
How are you being called to reject ageism for yourself and for the elders in your world? How much more is life offering you as you grow older? How much more is life still inviting you to offer others?
From a Faith Perspective appears in the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer, and we are grateful for their permission to share it here. Sr. Eileen White, GNSH is a frequent contributor.
It was published in the Sunday, October 1, 2023 edition.