Pray With the Pope: December 2017
Use wisdom of the older generations
General Intention: That the elderly, sustained by families and Christian communities, may apply their wisdom and experience to spreading the faith and forming the new generations.
Sixty, we’re told these days, “is the new 50”, and “70 is the new 60”. It’s true. I find myself and many of my own baby-boom generation of people in religious life still working full-time.
Nor do there seem to be too many younger confreres eyeing our jobs. For one thing, there are not many of them and for another they don’t seem too keen to undertake tasks which tie them down to a boring routine.
Let’s Talk Baby-Boomers
We baby-boomers (the generation born shortly after World War II) are definitely getting long in the tooth now. However, we—and I don’t mean just religious—do still have a lot to offer and, in many cases, the potential longevity to continue to offer it for some time to come. If a student of mine ever asks me what it was like in my day, I reply: “This is still my day!”
It must be said that mine is the lucky generation. We missed the Second World War with its loss and trauma. We lived at a time when the world economy was growing apace. We were brought up with a healthy lifestyle: we missed computers and cellphones as kids and so we played outside. We were immunised at the state’s expense against deadly diseases and were fed a balanced diet unpolluted by the sugar and the additives of today, and we have good dental health thanks to fluoridised water. Many of us were given generous educational opportunities which the #FeesMustFall generation can only dream of.
In middle age, many of us worked out that a key to health was regular exercise and we got into everything from yoga to jogging. So, thanks to our historical luck and a dash of wisdom in some cases, today we are often healthier and more energetic than many sedentary computer-jockeys, decades our junior.
We Are Discerning in Technology
We do know how to operate computers and other high-tech devices but we are generally more discerning in how we use them because we have the experience of a time when they did not exist.
When I tell my students that I remember a time when there were no cellphones they look at me aghast and pityingly as they contemplate the terrible thought of such a deprived world.
We do require support, as the Holy Father reminds us, especially as we get older and less independent, but if that support is forthcoming we hope to continue to serve society and the Church.
In the West, there is a degree of concern about how to look after us, this large and ageing generation. The upside of this generational imbalance is rarely stated: that a larger older generation constitutes an extensive pool of deep wisdom and varied experience.
Indeed, it is probably the first time in history in which there is such a large reservoir of knowledge, institutional memory and understanding available to the younger generations. Such a resource should be seen as immensely valuable rather than as a drag or a drain.
Affirming the Grandparent Generation
A bishop recently asked me how I was doing in the seminary and I replied that I was getting older. He replied by complimenting me on being an “ancestor” around the place, a very affirming tribute in African culture, and I was very touched. His remark encouraged me to continue to do my best in my educational and formational roles.
This is the kind of message that affirms the grandparent generation. It tells them that they are valued both in themselves and for their continuing care of and contribution to those who come after them.
The “baby-boomers” thank the Holy Father for this sensitive intention!