Friday, March 15, 2013

The Wisdom of Years

On this date in 1493, Christopher Columbus arrived back in Spain from his first voyage to the New World. The encounter between old and new worlds would henceforth go both ways, which it has continued to do these 520 years. That encounter is heightened now as an Italo-Argentinian assumes the papal throne, bringing back to Europe (and to the rest of the Universal Church) the religious-cultural experience of Latin America, which is itself a creation of the legacy of European Christianity's first evangelization of the New World.

Meanwhile, the business of getting back to business has resumed in Rome, although the dramatic conmclusion of this extraordinary conclave period - the new Pope's solemn formal installation as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church - is still to come. So today Pope Francis met with his "Senate," the College of Cardinals. Although televised, it was really a rather intimate gathering, very much reflecting the fraternity the cardinals have experienced during this period. The Pope's allocution certainly seemed heartfelt, especially when he seemed to be speaking spontaneously.

Heartfelt too were his special words of gratitude to his prececessor, whom he dscribed as having reinvigorated the Church with his teaching, his goodness, his faith, and his humility, a wise and humble man always focused on Christ Risen, present and active in the Eucharist.
Everyone takes from these events different impressions - according to one's own expeirences and situation. For me, just 10 days shy of officially becoming a senior citizen, it was particularly moving to hear Pope Francis (who is, of course, a decade older than I) speak of what we might consider a certain spirituality of old age. It is said that only 8% of the cardinals are under 65, which I can't confirm but certainly seems credible. So the Pope was speaking to an audience that should be well disposed to hearing his meassage.

"The majority of us are in advanced age," the Pope observed (translation mine, hence totally unofficial). "Old age is -  as I like to say - the seat of wisdom about life. The old have the wisdom of having walked through life, like the elderly Simeon and Anna in the Temple. It was precisely that wisdom that made them recognize Jesus. Let us give this wisdom to the young; like good wine, which becomes better over the years, let us give the young the wisdom of life."

That's traditionally been what the old were expected to do. Ours, however, is a society which fetishizes youth and novelty. Even more to the point, we are in the process of creating a society that is radically discontinuous with the past - not just the past of 2000 or 1000 or 500 or even 100 years ago, but even the past that my generation grew up in. It requires in effect an act of faith all its own to believe that one's life experience really has produced wisdom worth sharing with the young, whose world is so deliberately deprived of so much of what human beings have for so long valued. But sharing the wisdom of the past is, as Pope Francis suggests, a duty incumbent upon us. And that too is part of the new evagelization!

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