This year on Holy Family Sunday we hear about some saintly seniors. The most famous are Abraham and Sarah, who by a miraculous intervention, conceived a child (Isaac) in their old age. Jews, Christians and Moslems all recognize Abraham as our “father in faith.” Not only is he the physical father of the Jewish and Arab peoples* but much more important, because of his extraordinary trust, he models faith as a virtue.
In the Gospel we see two other seniors with extraordinary faith. An 84 year old widow, Anna, had spent the greater part of her life near the temple, fasting, praying and worshiping God. Considered a prophetess (Gr. prophetis, inspired woman) she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. (Lk 2:40) An elderly man named Simeon also waited for the “consolation of Israel.” He had the incredible joy of holding the Christ child in his arms. In the process he has left us the beautiful prayer which priests, deacons, religious and many others recite before retiring: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace…”
These saintly seniors have some important things to teach us. First, fidelity in old age. In my years as a priest I have been blessed by the faith of widows who, like Anna, spend their days near God’s sanctuary, praying and offering their suffering to the Lord. Often they struggle against discouragement, weariness, even depression – but ultimately faith shines through.
Although not so numerous as widows, elderly men have a particular role. I'm not talking about ones who have become cynical and bitter, but men like Simeon - eager, awaiting something new. I have known men like that. They can light up a room when they enter it. My dad was like that.
We need saintly seniors, not only in God’s house, but for the sake of our young families. You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that marriage and family are under attack. And you do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that without solid families, our society - and Church - will sink.
The Catechism teaches that God instituted marriage and family when he created us male and female. “A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family.” (#2202) Those of us who are not an immediate part of a nuclear family, have a solemn obligation to support parents and children to whatever degree we can.
I am proud to be pastor of a parish called Holy Family. The title refers of course to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. But it also suggests a mission – to help our young parents form holy families. Our society needs them desperately – and so does our Church. Saintly seniors can have a role in supporting such families.
*The Jews through Isaac and the Arabs through Ishmael (Abraham's son by the slave girl, Hagar).
Bulletin (Significance of Cardinal Law's Resignation)
From the archives (Holy Family Sunday homily):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
(Praying at West Seattle Planned Parenthood)
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru