Starting today, the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated every fourth Sunday of July. Pope Francis initiated this celebration for us to treasure and appreciate “the spiritual and human wealth” which our elders have handed down to us.
This papal initiative is significant and timely, especially for Filipino households, where it is common to find three generations living together in one house, or in separate houses but located in one compound. This close-knit family structure is reinforced by traditional Filipino values like utang na loob, bayanihan, and paggalang. Many grandparents play a caregiver role to their grandchildren whose parents are working abroad.
Sadly, unlike in the past when grandparents’ advice regarding family matters was highly sought, many young people today prefer to seek knowledge, guidance, and direction from their virtual elders — the internet, mass media, social media, and other electronic sources of information. Some grandparents are regarded as burdens because of their age and sickness. They receive a condescending treatment from their children and grandchildren. Perhaps we can take time today to make our lolo’s and lola’s feel special and loved.
A special day for grandparents and the elderly is also much needed today in our society, which is obsessed with physical beauty and the quest for eternal youth. Old people are seen as reminders of our impending death and decay, so they are left hidden in homes for the aged. Some people even develop a toxic prejudice against the elderly, expressed through disrespect, outright disdain, or even violence.
Such an attitude affects the elderly’s self-concept. Many of them find growing old as a matter of growing pains. This World Day for the Grandparents and the Elderly is a good opportunity for them to situate aging within a Christian perspective.
Physical deterioration is an inevitable aspect of human life. But our Christian faith teaches us that life is a journey where death is not the end, but merely a boundary. Growing old gracefully means mastering the art of crossing temporal boundaries to discover new ways of being and living.
This is the antidote to the insidious effects of science and capitalism on our concept of aging. Science sees old age as a problem or disease that requires the intervention of health professionals, lawyers, psychologists and psychiatrists. Worse, they are offered escape routes through cosmetic surgery, rejuvenating drugs, rehabilitation centers, spas, wellness workshops, and therapeutic and recreation centers.
Capitalism for its part has channeled the needs of the old into the consumption of goods and services that promise them longevity, health, and worry-free existence. Exploiting their fear of death, businessmen offer old people private pension plans, investment trusts, life insurance plans, accident benefit plans, etc.
Pope Francis invites the elderly to check their spiritual bearings and learn not only how to get through old age, but to grow through it through dreams, memory, and prayer.
No one can deny that most of the things we enjoy today were dreams of people who had wasted their youth to realize these dreams. Addressing the elderly, Pope Francis writes: “Your dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity can make it possible for our young people to have new visions.”
Keeping alive the memory of the past and sharing the lessons learned from our mistakes are also ways of growing through old age. Forgetting our mistakes is a worse evil than committing them because what has been forgotten cannot be corrected, and what was not corrected becomes the cause of greater mistakes.
Finally, even if an old person is sick and consigned to his bed, he can always do something: pray. As Pope Francis declares: “Especially in these difficult times for our human family, as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic, the elderly’s prayers for the world and for the Church has great value: it inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore.”