January 30, 2015

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Call on the powerful prayer of the elderly

Sean GallagherAs my wife, Cindy, and I have raised our five boys over the past 12 years, we’ve experienced many a Mass when our boys have been rambunctious in the pew and seemed to be distracting everyone in church from their worship.

As a result, Cindy and I have spent years taking fussy babies or troublesome toddlers to the back of the church when matters get out of hand.

It’s often happened after such liturgies that older people sitting near us have consoled us, given us encouragement and told us how precious our boys are.

I cherish these moments. They pull me out of my harried state after such Masses and help me appreciate the bigger picture.

Children are always a gift from God. And the difficulties Cindy, myself and other parents experience in raising them will not last forever.

In fact, when they’re grown, gone off on their own, and it’s the turn of Cindy and I to give a pat on the back to young parents of rowdy children at Mass, I’m sure we’ll look on the scene and somehow wish we were back in those days when our pew was a three-ring circus.

When this happens, we’ll be the next in a long line of older believers who support those who come after them.

This, it seems to me, was part of what Simeon and Anna did for Mary and Joseph when they brought the baby Jesus to the temple for his ritual dedication to the Lord.

We celebrate the encounter of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child with Simeon and Anna on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2. It is described in the Gospel reading for that day’s Mass, Luke 2:22-40.

Yes, they saw the parents and the newborn son and, moved by the Holy Spirit, thanked God for sending him as the Savior of his people and a light to the nations.

Such words surely lifted up Mary and Joseph after a period that had been marked by hardships.

From making a difficult trip to Nazareth in the final stages of Mary’s pregnancy to giving birth in a stable far from the support of family and friends, Mary and Joseph had faced more than their fair share of trials.

Maybe the presence of Simeon and Anna in the temple was a token of that support for them.

Simeon was very likely an old man, and Anna was definitely “advanced in years” (Lk 2:36). They were like the grandparents and other older people who often, in the past and today, help parents of newborns.

Such elders, while supportive of young parents, usually don’t sugarcoat their challenges. They’ve borne the crosses of parenthood, known its blessings, and can be realistic with their younger counterparts.

So was Simeon with Mary and Joseph. While praising their child, he also told them that Jesus would be “a sign that will be contradicted,” and that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul (Lk 2:34-35).

Maybe hearing premonitions of a troubled future was easier for Mary and Joseph to bear knowing that they had the spiritual support of elders like Simeon and Anna.

In a speech that he gave before thousands of senior citizens in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican last fall, Pope Francis exhorted the younger generation to appreciate the gifts that their predecessors have to offer.

The elderly, he said, “have a capacity to understand the most difficult situations. … And when they pray for these situations, their prayer is strong. It is powerful.”

On the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, let us give thanks to God for the elderly among us and call on their powerful prayers. †

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