By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published May 2, 2018
“Spirituality is a lifelong pursuit with the zenith often associated with the later years of life, and it permeates all other domains of living. There is a strong need to create spiritual formation programs for senior adults that open the doors to understanding the desires and needs of the older population.”
– Connie Baran, Concordia University
There is a perception floating around out there that most seniors have a well-developed, mature spirituality that needs little or no enhancement in the second half of life. In reality, from what I’ve observed, the closer a senior gets to the end of life, the greater the need for deep, introspective spiritual meditation. Older seniors tend to have a different perspective on life and the hereafter. This new perspective suggests the need to increase spiritual introspection to ensure that the ultimate goal in life, eternal salvation, is realized.
The spiritual needs of maturing seniors is addressed very well by Adrian Dominican Sister Janet Schaeffler, an expert on senior adult faith formation, “Research indicates that maturing adults may experience more change, more growth, and more personal development in their senior years than they did at any other time in their lives. Two reasons: maturing adults gradually experience a new freedom from societal, career, and familial accountability. Second, maturing adults experience more losses than at any previous stage.”
It is quite normal to be distracted by all the other things that capture your attention: family, career, education, health, hobbies, sports, community, friendships, social activities, possessions and all the other things that you are involved in daily.
But, at the end, when you stand in front of God for judgment, it won’t matter how much you have accomplished in your career. What will matter is whether you did enough to serve God and your neighbor. Sometimes you have to bring yourself back down to earth and remember the call from Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his immortal soul?”
I’ve thought about this topic and arrived at an obvious question: “What are the spiritual needs that seniors have to address?”
After some personal introspection I came up with the main spiritual needs important in my life: prayer, more frequent attendance at Mass, confession and the reception of the Eucharist and corporal acts of charity.
Let me dwell on prayer. We have been taught from childhood to memorize our prayers. A rosary is a good way to incorporate several of the most popular prayers. Another form of prayer that we seniors need to cultivate is the act of simply talking to God, one person to another, one friend to another, like a son or daughter talking to his or her father.
Seniors need to open an enduring dialog with God and share with him our challenges, hopes, dreams, frustrations and all the things that we would share with our best friends. He is there to listen and help. You can do it anywhere, any time during the day.
One of my favorite times for talking to God is during my morning drive to work at the Chancery. It takes 40 minutes, so I have enough time to say a rosary and my favorite prayers. Praying also helps me avoid getting distracted and shouting obscenities at the crazy drivers.
My favorite prayer times are when I visit the St. Dominic Chapel in the Chancery for daily Mass and the quiet time after Mass, when I can talk personally to God. I love the solitude and beauty of an empty church. Just sit back, relax and let God enter your mind.
I researched the spiritual needs of seniors and couldn’t find any lists, so I took a stab at creating one. I’ll share the list of 10 here for you to evaluate and provide feedback.
I would like to: 1) awaken and return to the spiritual foundation I had at baptism; 2) validate and intensify my spirituality and faith commitment; 3) incorporate prayer into my daily life, regularly and routinely; 4) learn how to talk to God, personally and intimately; 5) face the realities that aging has on my faith life; 6) increase the reception of the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and the anointing of the sick (for the health of mind and body); 7) prepare for the reality of death and eternal life; 8) serve as a positive role model to ensure that my loved ones achieve their ultimate goal in life; 9) give thanks for my blessings and gifts from God; and 10) forgive my own trespasses and those who trespass against me.
Let me hear from you if you have any changes, additions or reactions to the list.
I’ve found seniors in our parishes who are already saintly in their spiritual formation, thanks be to God. I suspect there are others who have not yet addressed their personal spiritual needs.
I pray that this article will stimulate you to renew your spiritual commitment and do whatever is takes to ensure eternal salvation. Good luck and God bless. Let me hear from you.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.