Green and Full of Sap – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Responsorial Psalm is based on one of my favourite psalms. Psalm 92 serves as a great reminder for me as I grow in age and experience: “In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright …” I’ve always appreciated the Jesuit reminder, one that I heard 1001 times during formation: Jesuits don’t retire. We always have a mission. I’m sure that I also offered the lines when I served as Novice Director.
I’m grateful that I have lived with and have come to know many older Jesuits – priests and brothers – who give evidence of that commitment in the way that they live their lives, and, even, prepare for their deaths. They are “green and full of sap,” still producing fruit. I am able to call to mind many examples of Jesuit priests and brothers who have been truly inspirational for me.
There is a phrase that is used to name the ministry (the job) of the Jesuits who have been assigned to live in the Province Infirmary (Rene Goupil House, in the case of the Jesuits in English Canada). Today’s phrase in our Jesuit catalogue is kind of dull: ministry of prayer. I prefer the old Latin phrase: Orat pro Soc et Eccl.That basically means “praying for the Church and the Society (of Jesus – the Jesuits).”
In other words, even though a man may be old and infirm, he still has an assignment. His ministry is to pray for the Church and the Society of Jesus. Some Provincial Superiors have sometimes delegated certain Jesuits to pray for special needs of the Jesuit Province. I remember when I was the superior of the Pickering Jesuits, I occasionally asked a man at Rene Goupil House to pray for the special needs of a house or apostolate, especially one where the Jesuit had served.
Psalm 92 offers a significant challenge for me. It’s so easy in our culture for women and men to feel washed up and forgotten when we get older. I suspect that this is even more of an issue with those of us who don’t have children and grandchildren. I’m envious of siblings and friends who have offspring. I know that they have worries. But there are times when I’d welcome those kind of worries. I’m not old. Not at all!
But I think that I know something about the experience, because of my health issues and my relatively new mobility issues. I also realize that I learned a few things from my time living with older Jesuits, often as a superior who was privileged to hear and witness the genuine struggles they coped with: cognitive decline, the loss of positions of leadership and decision-making, having to give up their driver’s license, possible incontinence issues, an increasing number of medical appointments, their genuine need for security about matters such as regular meals and access to the washroom, and so on.
As Bette Davies says, growing old is not for sissies. And so, I pray that I am not a sissy as I grow older. I pray that I remain green and full of sap. I pray that I’m not a burden, but, rather, an edifying example for others.