Aging Gracefully

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The older one gets the more one is prone to reflect on the current affairs of one’s life, comparing them with those of one’s youth. Yet, what exactly is adulthood? There seems to be no strict definition, and though age is usually an indication, it is not a hard and fast rule universally accepted. In general, we usually recognize adults as more capable of comprehending the profound experiences of life, those which impact us deeply, such as a spiritual conversion, discovering a vocation, finding a soulmate, or having a first child. These sorts of occasions can force us to acknowledge that some significant shift has occurred: we are no longer the same person we once were; some greater truth has been discovered which calls for a change in mindset and lifestyle. Sometimes that change can occur so deeply or drastically that, upon reflection, it can feel as though one has become a new person entirely, and thinking back on the way things used to be can feel surreal, like remembering someone else’s life. Marvelously, when through these changes we grow in sanctity and holiness, in our relationship with Jesus and commitment to the Church, we can attribute these changes to gifts of grace.

Shakespeare famously wrote in Act One of Hamlet, “To thine own self be true…and you canst not then be false to any man.” This advice is well put; it should be taken seriously if one desires to weather the changes of life and reflect happily as the years go by. To be true to oneself is to be honest and straightforward, to be patient with decisions, and to seek wise counsel when doubt arises; it is not compatible with “double-mindedness,” which, as the letter of James warns us, leads to instability. Double-mindedness is rather like “having one’s cake and eating it too,” asking God to fulfill one’s needs, yet simultaneously doubting God’s existence or His ability (and desire!) to supply what one lacks. St. Augustine was of two minds when he wrote memorably in his Confessions, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologiae that the self-evident first principle of moral reasoning is that all seek the good (to which must be added the caveat that, while it is the good that is sought, what one determines to be the good varies with the growth or loss of virtue). In the end, we must realize that God is the highest good. As St. Augustine wrote in his famous prayer, “God, you made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” God is a steadfast rock, a point of stability and reference, guiding us in all times and in every uncertainty. God never changes, as the Letter to the Hebrews attests: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

There is a supernatural metamorphosis in the Christian life: grace transforms us. Where we begin in the life of grace, seeking Christ in His Church and Sacraments, is of less concern than that we progress in the life of grace. To begin implies movement, and in the Christian life, to be stagnant or lukewarm is unacceptable, as it says in the Book of Revelation: “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). Change, then, is necessary. Pondering one’s past mistakes, sorrows, and pains, as well as one’s joys and successes, can make us aware, in all humility, of the effect of grace in our lives, how grace has brought us from where we began to our current state; it also shows us how much more work, how much more change is necessary to become saints, to become Christ-like.

We begin in the life of grace as infants, and, by making progress and feasting on “spiritual milk,” we can grow into a spiritual adulthood: we become adults in faith. In the entrance antiphon for Mass this past Sunday, the First Letter of Peter admonishes us, “Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Spiritual growth takes time; by beginning with the spiritual food of infants, we can grow and become strong in faith. We may never fully define what it means to be an adult, nor ever feel that we have arrived at perfect adulthood, but until “we have shuffled off this mortal coil,” as Hamlet says, let us never grow cold or stagnate, but seek ever heartier spiritual food, that our faith may be complete.

Image: The Bean, Millenium Park, Chicago

By | 2015-02-11T09:43:15+00:00 April 19, 2012|Culture, Virtue & Moral Life|

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