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Friday, March 25 2016 16:21
Something once said by the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard applies beautifully to old age as a vocation.  “What is it to be God’s chosen?,” he asks. “It is to be denied in youth the wishes of youth, so with great pains to get them fulfilled in old age.”

This vision of the later years as a time of fulfillment means that the last stages are the time when one’s life acquires its true meaning and becomes whole.

Kierkegaard applies this moral to the life of the biblical patriarch Abraham.    God called Abraham to leave his native land and entered into a covenant with him. Abraham, aged and childless, would nonetheless become the father of a great people. And indeed he lived to see his first-born son grow into manhood.

Many contemporary elders feel fulfilled when they greet the arrival of grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  Knowing that descendents will carry on the family line and the family traditions gives them satisfaction that their own lives have had meaning.

In our own day elders feel fulfilled when they greet the arrival of grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Their lives take on new meaning, as they expect their descendants will carry on the family line and the family traditions.

Sometime those traditions are religious. Elders who see their children’s children receiving the rite of baptism or becoming a bar or bat mitzvah are filled with a special joy. They welcome the knowledge that others in their family line have inherited the consolations of faith.

 This, then, is one of the consolations of the old age vocation. It sees a long life to be rewarding in itself, worth having lasted decades past middle age. But there are other consolations, some of them within ourselves.

Living long enables us to discover creative powers which might not have appeared at an earlier age. These skills and talents thus become part of the unexpected benefits of the call to longevity. Had we not lived so long, we would never have developed these gifts that enhance our personality.

The opportunity which long life gives for spiritual development is also one of its precious benefits.  Elders are given time for growing into a closer union with the divinity and for reaching a greater understanding of its graces and gifts.  This kind of spiritual maturity brings inner riches to a person and can make a difference to all those with whom that person comes into contact.

The prospect of dying may appear in a different light to someone who regards old age as a vocation. The end to human life is put in perspective as the final stage of human development. It becomes the completion of the vocation to be long-lived, crowning all the decades of striving toward the fulfillment of our existence.

Another element in the vocation to old age is the summons to continue and intensify the search for truth.  If, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins suggests “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” it takes a long time to explore reality. 

Everything that exists, from the smallest features of the physical world up to the marvelous complexities of human anatomy, allows of seemingly infinite investigation.

One of the greatest privileges of living a long time is the opportunity to witness to mysteries of the world as they unfold. Those who have lived through much of the 20th century, for example, have seen wonders that they had thought  existed only in fantasy. That space travel has become commonplace is only one of the myriad developments which any 19th century person would have regarded with disbelief.

This kind of envisioning of human life provides meaning, motivation, and a spiritual empowerment that can animate old age like nothing else.  Our life span takes on a dynamic that ennobles our humanity, making it precious and full of value.  When the spiritual is allowed to supply meaning, then our life expands to its potential.