We can learn a lot from older people who know how to listen carefully and quietly practice their beliefs.
One of the prayer intentions of the past few years for the Pope’s worldwide prayer network has been for the elderly, “supported by families and Christian communities, who can apply their wisdom and experience to spread the faith and educate the new generations”.
There’s a lot in there that we could unpack. It has the implication that they will be valued by their communities, which include, but are not limited to, their own family so that they can be viewed as something worth passing on to younger people. But the structures of how we live, eat, dress and love are so strongly shaped by a turbo-capitalist need for constant novelty that it is difficult to imagine how this insatiable whirlpool of older people’s wisdom can give way.
In what Pope Francis has referred to more than once as a “throwaway culture” like ours, this can be a frightening place for the vulnerable, including the elderly. And nothing captures the speed of this novelty but the joys of the TikTok algorithm. If you’ve sensed the addictive power of its AI cleverness then you know it’s the latest example of the kind of constant flow and distraction from material affairs that bombard young people now from waking up to the moment with the cell phone in the crease of their necks fall asleep.
With a business model so outrageously based on addiction, these social media platforms can work effectively to block any spiritual life that includes receiving from others.
Perhaps the first thing the elders can offer the young is a story from a time when we had time; a time when silence was nothing to plan for; a period of non-continual “busy” was not viewed as one of the last remaining perversions for an adult or child; and a time when belief in Jesus Christ and His Church was an anchor in a world of change.
In the face of indifference and marginalization, the elderly and all of us may have no choice but to follow the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: preach often and use words when necessary.
The presence of an elder who can be quiet and actively listen to others without looking at their phone every minute and who practices his faith through thick and thin is a sign of hope and one of the few true teachers we have left .