By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published May 15, 2008
Several of the Atlanta morning television news shows announce birthdays as a human interest part of their broadcast. One of them highlights the birthdays of youngsters, and another recognizes the birthdays of centenarians. The J. M. Smucker Co. sponsors the latter, and you see the photographs of these lovely older people surrounded by the logos of the Smucker’s jams and jellies—as though their longevity is somehow related with the product.
It may just be a subliminal association, but I know that there may be a business advantage for the company from such advertisements.
Those who have managed to live for a hundred or more years obviously have something going for them—usually a good lifestyle, strong genes and an environment that is conducive to living a long time—with or without eating a particular type of jam or jelly.
May, in addition to being a Marian month, is also the month that we honor older Americans, and each year there are more and more of them to honor. In 1999 the U.S. bishops wrote a pastoral letter called “The Blessings of Age: A Pastoral Message on Growing Older Within the Faith Community.” In that document we reminded our people that “how the community relates to its older members—recognizing their presence, encouraging their contributions, responding to their needs and providing appropriate opportunities for spiritual growth—is a sign of the community’s spiritual health and maturity.”
People who manage to live a hundred years or more are generally proud of their age, and I have been told by many elderly people that the gift of a long life allows them to brag about God’s favor to them. Even some ladies who may have been sensitive about their age become boastful once they reach the century mark.
May is a time when the Church pauses to recall and rejoice in the presence of our older members. We also traditionally honor Mary the Mother of Jesus during this same time period. She who so often has a special place in the prayer of older generations of Catholics is a perfect reminder of how each generation has a unique place in the life of the Church. After all, she herself reminded Elizabeth that “all generations will call me blessed.”
Each generation should have a place of honor within the community of the Church.
While there are many factors that go into living a long life, we must make sure that each senior within the community of the Church is honored and revered for their witness of faith and love. While we might not be able to control or determine how long we ourselves might live, there is much that we can and ought to do to make sure that our oldest sisters and brothers are respected, loved and revered.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta collaborates with other social agencies and is a helpful resource for older folks and their relatives and friends. Please contact Regina Harris at Catholic Charities to discover some of the services and activities that are available for our elders right here in this local Church.
Happy “Older Americans Month” to all those who have earned that title and give such witness of faith to us all.