It was a morning like any other in the parish where I had served. I had finished morning Mass and had come to my office to wade through the daily morass of emails. I suddenly overheard my parish secretary having a conversation with an elderly parishioner who had stopped by to schedule some Mass intentions. The gentleman was very well known in the community, for he had been a successful businessman and CEO of its largest business. Now, long since retired, he spent his days going to Mass, visiting friends and resting his tired bones. My secretary, a compassionate and patient woman, was trying to explain to him what he needed to do to have a Mass said for his deceased relative. Again and again she tried to explain, but the more she tried, the more befuddled he became. Eventually the Mass was scheduled, he put on his old hat, and he slowly shuffled to the door. Immediately after he had left, I went to check on my secretary to see what had happened. I found her standing, silently gazing out the window at the elderly man who by now could not manage to find his car. She hurried out to point out where his huge Lincoln Continental was parked. He then tipped his hat to her and gradually found his way. And when my secretary came back to the parish office, she immediately put her head down on her desk and began to sob.
Why did she cry? Perhaps he reminded her of her own father. Maybe it was her great empathy for this elderly gentleman. Or perhaps it was fear at the passage of time and the cruelty of old age. I never asked her why, but her reaction had a profound effect on me.
One of the great sadnesses of life is that a younger generation often does not fully comprehend or acknowledge what the older generation had once achieved at so great a sacrifice. Children naturally do not remember what their parents gave up to raise them — the long sleepless nights and the many worries and fears. Similarly, younger employees can hardly comprehend that their elders had once been like them, brimming with fresh ideas and energy. If only we could have seen each other in our prime! But all we can see is what we see — today. Young is young and old is old. My deeply faithful secretary saw an old man slowly but surely losing his mental faculties. He had been wealthy and successful and young. But now he couldn’t even find his car. How absolutely awful this is. How cruel the passage of time can be.
“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever,” the Scriptures tell us. He alone is without beginning or end. And “behold, he makes all things new.” The church, our society and we ourselves will grow young only in Jesus Christ risen from the dead. It has been said that the simplest definition of the theological virtue of hope is that we have a future. In these days, when hope is in such short supply, we ought to remember that we do indeed have a future. Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us — heaven. And this hope we find only in Jesus Christ risen from the dead. He is our only true consolation in life and in death. Do we believe this?
Recently I went to anoint a very dear friend of mine. She and her husband had been married for 73 years and had been blessed with a wonderful family and a strong faith. She had been a wonderful mother and grandmother, an excellent cook and a loving spouse to her beloved husband. They had done everything together for almost three quarters of a century. Now, as she lay dying, I offered the sacraments of the church and tried to console her grieving husband. And it was a beautiful and moving experience for all of us. God was present. But after I left and got back to my car, I too began to sob. Why? I think you know. But my tears soon dried because I remembered that I have a future. She has a future. And you do, too.
Fr. Girotti is vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay.