Old Age, A Gifted Time

By Fr Keith Gorman

Father Gorman, an Australian ordained in 1943, worked for many years in Japan. Here he tells us how old age is a special, gifted time from God. Gardening, an activity going back to Adam and Eve, and his computer, a very recent invention, both help him to pray.

When I was coordinator of our Columban committee on ageing, we conducted a questionnaire. I echo the sentiments of the respondent who wrote, ‘Old age is a special, gifted time from God.’

I thank God for old age. I feel blessed in my old age, more blessed than in other stages of my life. In some ways I am more peaceful; I have always worried. Now I am not asked to do so many things, I haven’t much cause to worry. Thanks to medical attention I am free from pain and I can eat, drink, sleep and walk. 

My Columban Society takes care of my needs. I am at least as busy as I have ever been but there is no pressure, no deadlines. I love reflecting on ageing and I have plenty of time for this; I have a computer to help me. I pray more than before. 

I am supported by what is expressed in a Columban document called Becoming More Missionary. 

‘There are Columbans who for reasons of age or illness are no longer as active as previously . . . As missionaries active in the field, we tend to put the weight of our identity on the active side of the scale. A more gospel-inspired vision would tell us that being missionary hinges more on who one is than on what one does .. .’

This document gives an example, ‘Late in the journey a missionary who has witnessed to the life-affirming values of Jesus’ life, also witnesses to the life-redeeming value of “self-emptying, suffering and death.” Inevitably a certain grief accompanies the lessening of vitality, but for those who “work through” the grief, a freedom to respond to God’s further invitation will emerge.’ 

I am grateful to God. Many passages in the Bible help me express my thanks and praise. St Paul thanks God for the zeal of the Philippians, ‘I thank my God every time I think of you; whenever I pray for you all, my prayers are always joyful because of the part you have taken in the work of the Gospel from the first day until now’ (Phil 1:3-5). 

During his public life Jesus gave thanks to his Father, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and wise and revealing them to the simple’ (Matt 11:25). He expected gratitude from others. He was disappointed when He cured ten lepers and only one returned to thank Him. I’m sure I’ve often disappointed Jesus but I am glad that as I grow older I am becoming a little more thankful. 

Numerous psalms help me give thanks and praise to God. One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 107. I had read this psalm many times but it did not mean much to me until I read it one day when I was on a retreat. Then I noticed it spoke of God rescuing people from their predicament, ‘Some lost their way in desert wastelands; they found no path to a city to live in . . . (Ps 107:4). In each case . . . ‘they cried to the lord in their trouble and He brought them out of their distress’ (Ps 107: 28). 

I have not experienced these trials but I have experienced others that distressed me. As I become older I thank God for my family, my Catholic faith, that I am a member of St Columban’s Mission Society, for my health, my community and my friends. I am grateful that I have time to reflect on ageing, to spend time on my computer and work in my garden.