Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Enjoying one’s sunset years

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published October 30, 2014

There is a group here on retreat this week and the theme is “The Joyful Challenges of Life After 50.” The group, about 15 people, arrived last night and I glanced over at them as they chanted vespers with us. I am giving them a talk tomorrow morning. I have a few ideas I have written up, and yet I do not know if I will use them. I may give a brief talk and then show a DVD. When I took stock of the group last night, I could not help but notice one thing. I think I am older than half of them. So now I am in the process of shifting gears, kind of like slowing down my innards and trying to find a gear that hugs the sunset roads of life with ease and grace.2014 10 30 GB Father James Behrens, OCSO Enjoying one’s sunset years

It must have been around or maybe even on my last birthday that I received a card from a friend who encouraged me to enjoy my “sunset years.” I had turned 66. I did not feel “sunsetty.” If there was a fading glow, I had not noticed it. The evening of life, aka closure, demise, death, seemed far away then, and it seems still far away as I am writing this. But you never know. It could come like a thief in the night. But I have plans for tonight. So I hope God doesn’t cramp my style with His.

But I got to thinking about my life and the sobering truth that I do not have oodles of years left. At least not a whole lot of oodles. I am in reasonably good health. I am capable of doing many of the things I have done all my life. Maybe a bit slower, but I manage to do them.

So I have been thinking about what keeps me going in life. What is it that I am looking for, that fuels my engine, feeds my soul? And one word comes to mind and that word is passion. I want to share with the little gathering how important it is to find something or someone you can love with a passion. Passion is, I think, the best fuel for the heart. As I look back on the last 20 or so years that I have been here, I have been blessed with several wellsprings of passion.

There is meaning to this monastic life, and it is a meaning that we monks talk about and share seemingly incessantly. We are renewed day in and day out with words, images and memories that invite us into the graced waters of life. Even though I tend to take it all for granted because it all becomes a part of “everydayness,” there are times when I step back from it all and then realize what a blessing it is to be immersed in a life that is brimming with meaning. Then there is my writing and photography, different ways I have to express through words and images the joys and sorrows of life as they move us through life. I believe that God can somehow be known through writing and through a photograph.

God is on both sides of the pen and the lens. God inspires me to write and photograph. And I hope that those who read words and gaze at pictures are also sensing something of God’s presence. For God is everywhere. Wherever there is life, there is God.

And as we grow older, I pray that our passions deepen as we are moved to be still and savor the presence of God in and through all the times and events that we have been given—up to and including our “sunset years.”

There is something beautiful when the sun sets. People take pictures of it all the time. May they better grow to know why as their years take on the same beauty.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at