UNBORN WORD of the day


In 1999 – at the age of 78, John Paul II wrote a special letter…
April 8, 2008, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Biblical Reflections, John Paul II, Pro-life

In 1999, at the age of 78, John Paul II wrote a fascinating letter. Fascinating, because as a senior citizen he wrote a Letter to the Elderly.

John Paul reminds us that: “In the past, great respect was shown to the elderly.” But today “among some peoples old age is esteemed and valued, while among others this is much less the case….”

He goes on to point out: “It has come to the point where euthanasia is increasingly put forward as a solution for difficult situations”.

There are many inspiring words of wisdom and counsel in this letter to the elderly but what I found interesting is that he points out the many prominent Biblical figures who in the later years of their lives did great things for God.

He gives 10 examples:

1. “Abraham, in whom the privilege of old age is stressed, this favour takes the form of a promise: ‘I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great. I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse; in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ (Gen 12:2-3)”

2. “Sarah, a woman who sees her body growing old, yet experiences within the limitations of her aging flesh the power of God who makes good every human shortcoming.”

3. “Moses too was an old man when God entrusted him with the mission of leading the Chosen People out of Egypt. It was not in his youth but in his old age that, at the Lord’s command, he did mighty deeds on behalf of Israel.”

4. “Tobit, who humbly and courageously resolved to keep God’s Law, to help the needy and to endure blindness patiently, until the angel of God intervened to set his situation aright (cf. Tob 3:16-17).”

5. “Eleazar, whose martyrdom bore witness to an exceptional generosity and strength (cf. 2 Macc 6:18-31).”

6. “The Gospel of Luke begins by introducing a married couple ‘advanced in years’ (1:7): Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist. The Lord’s mercy reaches out to them (cf. Lk 1:5-25, 39-79)”

7. “…the aged Simeon, who had long awaited the Messiah. Taking the child in his arms, Simeon blesses God and proclaims the Nunc Dimittis: ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace’ (Lk 2:29).”

8. “Anna, a widow of eighty-four, a frequent visitor to the Temple, who now has the joy of seeing Jesus. The Evangelist tells us that ‘she began to praise God and spoke of the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Lk 2:38).”

9. “Nicodemus too, a highly-regarded member of the Sanhedrin, was an elderly man. He visited Jesus by night in order not to be seen. To him the Divine Teacher reveals that he is the Son of God who has come to save the world (cf. Jn 3:1-21). Nicodemus appears again at the burial of Jesus, when, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, he overcomes his fear and shows himself a disciple of the Crucified Lord (cf. Jn 19:38-40).”

10. “And what shall we say of Peter in his old age, called to bear witness to his faith by martyrdom? Jesus had once said to him: ‘When you were young you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go’ (Jn 21:18).”

He ends this list with a quote from the Psalms:

“The just will flourish like the palm-tree, and grow like a Lebanon cedar…, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just” Psalm 92 (vv. 13, 15-16).

John Paul lived this fruitfulness in his own life – for after this letter – even in his old age he continued strong writing one more Encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003) and 12 Apostolic letters. He also proclaimed a Jubilee year (2000) and met with the Youth in Canada in 2002. He wrote numerous letters and preached the Angelus message regularly till March 20, 2005 just a couple of weeks before his death.

Especially impressive were the 18 Pilgrimages (to 24 countries) that he made after 1999, which are listed here:

In 2000 (Fatima, Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the Jubilee Pilgrimage to Mount Sinai) – in 2001 Kazakhstan, Armenia, Ukraine, and the Jubilee Pilgrimage “in the footsteps of Saint Paul the Apostle”: Greece, Syria, Malta) – in 2002 (Poland, Toronto, Ciudad de Guatemala and Ciudad de México, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Ischia) -in 2003 (Pompei (Italy), Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Spain) – in 2004 (Loreto (Italy), Lourdes (France) and Bern (Switzerland) ).

John Paul II certainly lived what he preached in this letter!

A great man whom I once met – Eddie Doherty – had been a writer when he was younger and received a special dispensation to become a priest at the age of 78. When I met Father Eddie he was even older – I will always remember a wonderful thing he said to me one day:

“I’m going to get older and older and then I am going to die and get younger and younger…”


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