An elderly priest is pictured in a file photo walking to his residence at Our Lady of Carmen Church in Panama City. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Wisdom of the Ages

Blessings and experience that come with age can lead us more closely to Christ

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AckermanWhile golfing once with my dad, a man in his 70s, we became stuck behind an incredibly slow foursome. “Look at these old guys,” my dad remarked, “they’ve got to be in their 60s; they should let us younger people play through!” I naturally began to laugh, and although my dad did not intend it to be humorous, he quickly realized what he had just said. “Well, I guess you don’t think of yourself as getting older,” he replied with a smirk, “but I just proved it by forgetting how old I am!”

As priests, too, there are inevitably times in which we show our age. Recently, the youth group at my parish had an open gym, and I was recruited to play in a pickup three-on-three basketball tournament. I could not outrun, outshoot or out-physical practically anyone. I kept hoping for either the mercy rule to end the game early or for someone to know how to use an AED, but thankfully it never came to that.

I did gain some credibility, though, from one of the kids playing: “You’re pretty good, Father, my dad would never have been able to finish this game.”

That comment did not bring me comfort, but sometimes showing our age also reveals wisdom and spiritual maturity. As a seminarian I thought I had all the answers and knew more than the veteran priests and staff around me.

We had many young families in my assigned parish, and I was given the task to develop a “family day.” I tried putting together a day with games, crafts, bingo (of course) and an ice-cream truck, but I had no idea what I was doing. I never realized that you need permits, licenses and security to run an event — it is exhausting and hard to make fun happen!

Finally, an older priest that I went to for direction, seeing that I was frazzled, asked me what I wanted to accomplish by this day. “I want people excited about faith,” I told him.

“Then, give them Jesus,” he replied. “No one needs more chaos; Mass and a meal. Amen.” Although I doubted such a simple approach, he was right. I had to eat crow. His wisdom revealed that I was doing too much. I was serving up bread and circuses when the focus needed to be on the Bread of Life. In my zeal and stubbornness I had forgotten the blessings that experience brings.

The Book of Job says it best: “So with old age is wisdom, / and with length of days understanding” (12:12). So, if you find yourself worrying about getting older, or being unable to keep up with younger folk, be at peace. The blessings and experience that come with age can lead us more closely to Christ as we simplify life. It is not something we willingly choose, but something that God offers for our humility, sanctification and dependence on him.

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at the parish grouping of Holy Sepulcher in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and St. Kilian in Butler, Pennsylvania.

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