Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 11 Mar in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.
In today’s catechesis we continue the reflection on grandparents, considering the value and importance of their role in the family. I do so, identifying myself with these persons, because I also belong to this phase of age.
When I was in the Philippines, the Filipino people greeted me, saying: “Lolo Kiko,” – that is, Grandfather Francis – “Lolo Kiko”, they said! It is important to stress one thing first: it is true that society tends to discard us, but certainly not the Lord. The Lord never discards us. He calls us to follow Him in every age of life, and old age also contains a grace and a mission, a true vocation of the Lord. Old age is a vocation. It is not yet the moment “to rest on one’s oars”. Without a doubt, this period of life is different from the preceding. We also must somehow “invent it for ourselves” because our societies are not ready, spiritually and morally, to give its full value to this moment of life. Once, in fact, it was not normal to have time at one’s disposal; today it is much more so. And Christian spirituality has also been caught somewhat by surprise, and an attempt is being made to delineate a spirituality of elderly persons. However, thanks be to God there is no lack of testimonies of elderly men and women Saints!
I was very moved by the “Day for the Elderly”, which we held here in Saint Peter’s Square last year. The Square was full. I heard stories of elderly people who spent themselves for others, and also stories of married couples, who said: “We are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary; we are celebrating our 60th wedding anniversary”. It is important to have young people see this, who get tired immediately. The testimony of fidelity of the elderly is important. And there were so many of them in the Square that day. It is a reflection to be continued, be it in the ecclesial as well as in the civil realm. The Gospel comes to meet us with a very beautiful, moving and encouraging image. It is the image of Simeon and Anna, of which the Gospel of Jesus’ infancy speaks to us, composed by Saint Luke. They certainly were old, the “old man” Simeon and the “prophetess” Anna who was 84. This woman did not hide her age. The Gospel says that they awaited the coming of God every day, with great fidelity, for long years. In fact, they wanted to see him that day, gather the signs, and intuit the beginning. Perhaps they were somewhat resigned, by now, to die before: however, that long awaiting continued to occupy their whole life, they had no other important commitments than this: to await the Lord and pray. Well, when Mary and Joseph reached the Temple to fulfil the dispositions of the Law, Simenon and Anna were suddenly moved, animated by the Holy Spirit (Cf. Luke 2:27). The weight of their age and of the awaiting disappeared in a moment. They recognized the Child, and discovered new strength for a new task: to render thanks and render witness to this Signs of God. Simeon improvised a very beautiful hymn of jubilation (Cf. Luke 2:29-32) – he was a poet at that moment – and Anna became the first preacher of Jesus: she ”spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
Dear grandparents, dear elderly, let us put ourselves in the track of these extraordinary old people. Let us also become somewhat poets of prayer: let us enjoy looking for our words; let us re-appropriate for ourselves those that the Word of God teaches us. The prayer of grandparents and the elderly is a great gift for the Church; it is richness! It is a great injection of wisdom also for the whole of human society, especially for that which is too busy, too seizing, too distracted. Someone must sing also for them the signs of God, must proclaim the signs of God, must pray for them! We look at Benedict XVI, who has chosen to spend the last stage of his life in prayer and in listening to God! This is beautiful! Olivier Clement, a great believer of the last century, of Orthodox tradition, said: “A civilization where there is no longer prayer is a civilization where old age no longer makes sense. And this is terrifying. We are in need first of all of elderly people that pray, because old age is given to us for this.” We are in need of elderly people that pray because old age is given to us precisely for this. The prayer of the elderly is a beautiful thing.
We can thank the Lord for the benefits received and fill the void of ingratitude that surrounds him. We can intercede for the expectations of the new generations and give dignity to the memory and the sacrifices of the past ones. We can remind ambitious young people that a life without love is an arid life. We can say to fearful young people that anguish over the future can be overcome. We can teach young people too enamoured of themselves that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Grandfathers and grandmothers make up the permanent “chorale” of a great spiritual shrine, where the prayer of supplication and the singing of praise sustain the community that works and struggles in the field of life.
Finally, prayer purifies the heart incessantly. Praise and supplication to God prevent the hardening of the heart in resentment and egoism. How awful is the cynicism of an old man who has lost the meaning of his testimony, scorns young people and does not communicate the wisdom of life! Instead, how good is the encouragement that elderly man is able to give the youth in search of faith and the meaning of life! It is truly the mission of grandparents, the vocation of the elderly. Grandparents’ words have something special for young people. And they know it. I still carry with me always in my Breviary the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing the day of my priestly Ordination, and I read them often and it does me good.
How I would like a Church that challenges the disposable culture with the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young people and the elderly! And this is what I ask the Lord today, this embrace!