Roman Catholic Henri Nouwen wrote that when we are born, we begin the process of aging. Some will avoid the signs of aging by dyeing their hair, Botox injections, plastic surgery, the use of various creams or other available options. Others live in denial, seeking to do the things of younger years. But getting older is not necessarily an easy thing. Because if you get old enough, you are likely to suffer from something, some ailment, some illness, something that will slow you down.
Two older women were discussing getting older, sharing their stories of surgeries and many trips to the doctor. One asked, “What good is there in having pain?” A man overhearing the conversation responded, “At least you know you’re still alive.” St. Paul would ask of the Lord for Him to remove his affliction. Jesus’ response was simply, “My grace is sufficient for the journey.”
My optometrist expressed his hope that he’d get old enough to have cataracts.
I believe the positive aspect of what he was expressing was that he would live a long or longer life. And that those cataracts are addressed with a surgery and no longer a problem.
As I approach the age of 65, I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve received from companies offering additional coverage to Medicare.
Their number is like the stars in the sky. It feels like I’m being stalked and certainly harassed. They all want me, but it’s because I’m about to hit that certain age.
And then there are letters and emails informing me of the approaching occasion and that I need to sign up. They remind me of my aging, which is a very natural process for all living creatures. But we are also reminded by the onset of some aches and pains not present in younger years.
As I read the Gospel story in Luke 13 about a woman who’d been crippled for 18 years, it brought to mind some older folks I’d known. They like the woman of our story was bent over.
The Gospel doesn’t tell us if she got around with the help of a walking stick (maybe she did), but through the years, two of my parishioners – Mr. Giese and Miss Alma – became bent over and got around with tall walking sticks.
Mr. Giese said it helped him stand a bit straighter. While the walking stick is often used by those who do a lot of hiking or walking, it is also associated with those less able. Historically, it has been a symbol of authority and used by the chief of tribes, pharaohs, European kings, and bishops of the Church – “important people.” Mr. Giese, Miss Alma and the woman crippled for 18 years were also important people – important to God, their families, their towns and their religious communities.
Mr. Giese was a World War II veteran, husband, father, rancher, teacher and administrator. One man commented about him, “He inspired me all my life to be a better person.” And another commented, “I am uplifted by the enormous strength of his spirit.” And “He influenced so many students for the good during his time in public education.”
In 2014, Miss Alma made the cover of the book, “Faces of Aging II.” In her later years, she spent her time making cookies for disabled veterans and giving gifts of pies, cakes and fresh homemade bread to those in her community. I thought of this kindly, loving lady as one of “God’s Bakers.” It was her holy calling.
Walking with their tall sticks, weathered by the years, in spite of being bent over and suffering the aches and pains of aging, each Sunday, they made their way up the steps and into the church on Sunday mornings.
In that community of faith, they encountered the presence, grace, love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. When they came forward for the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus gave Himself to them – “This is my body. This is my blood,” and they received Him.
In the Gospel of Luke, the bent over woman encountered Jesus in the synagogue.
And because of that encounter with the Jesus of grace and love, her life was forever changed by his healing touch. Because of Jesus, she stood up straight and began praising God.
In one of her songs, country singer Miranda Lambert, sings, “Every grandma’s got a story to tell” and “Everybody dies famous in a small town.” Mr. Giese, Miss Alma, the bent over woman in Luke’s Gospel, all of us have a story to tell of the journey we are on.
The journey is not always easy, but Jesus, our Lord, is with us and giving us sufficient grace for whatever comes our way.