Synodality and the Aged

We have a natural attraction for youthfulness – the fat cheeks of toddlers, the smooth silk-like skin of children, the exuberance and aliveness of adolescence, the sculptured body of athletes, and the full head of hair of young men and women. These images splatter the pages of fashion magazines, occupy the storyline of movies, shape the lyrics of romantic songs, and draw our attention on social media. In fact, many individuals consciously and unconsciously sing the song, “Forever young, I want to be forever young.”

On the flip side of the coin of life, we experience miniscule attractiveness for the aged. Their wrinkled skin, frail bodies, bald head, grey hair, flabby muscles, and snail-like movements place them on the margins of desirability and attention. We tend to hide them away in nursing homes, visit them infrequently, and sometimes perceive them as bothersome. They are invisible in the movies, magazines, and musical lyrics.  Their fame and life-time achievements are intentionally forgotten until death.

The hidden irony however is that old age is where wisdom is woven and enlightens the lives of the younger generation and the entire community (Pope Francis). The manifestation of this insight occurred in front of my eyes on a recent visit to the Most Rev. Edgerton Clarke, 93-year-old retired Archbishop of Kingston, Jamaica. Among the litany of wise insights he shared with me, one stood out. He reminded me that persons who are incapacitated, for example the aged, deeply need the human touch of a visit, a telephone call, a physical touch, or a listening ear. He insisted that every priest must prioritize, and structure in his busy life, time to spend with them. His words of wisdom converge with Pope Francis’.

“In our old age, the importance of many ‘details’ of which life made – a caress, a smile, a gesture, an appreciated effort, an unexpected surprise, a hospitable cheerfulness, a faithful bond – becomes more acute.”

For this reason, the Synod 2021-2023 logo includes not only a youthful image, but images of the aged and incapacitated in a wheelchair. It’s a clear-cut aide-mémoire that the aged accompanies the Church on the synodal journey with their wisdom, and the Church accompanies them with our physical strength and a thirst for their wisdom.

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