Pope: the beauty of old age is to walk towards the Eternal
Francis centred his general audience today on the Gospel passage that refers to Nicodemus. For the pontiff, old age is "a special time to dissolve the future from the technocratic illusion of biological and robotic survival". Quoting the late Italian actress Anna Magnani, he urged the faithful to see wrinkles as a precious symbol of one’s life journey.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis continued his cycle of catechesis on old age today during his Wednesday General Audience, centring it on the New Testament figure of Nicodemus and the rebirth “from above”.
In his address to the pilgrims from all over the world, gathered in St Peter's Square, the pontiff spoke about Nicodemus, one of the Jewish leaders who wanted to meet Jesus secretly, and went to see him at night (cfr Jn 3,1-21).
“Jesus says to Nicodemus that to ‘see the kingdom of God’, one needs ‘to be born again from above’ (cf. v. 3),” Francis said. “This does not mean starting over from birth, of repeating our coming into the world, hoping that a new reincarnation will open up the chance of having a better life.”
If this were the case, life would lose all meaning. The “’birth from above’ that allows us to ‘enter' the kingdom of God is a generation in the Spirit, a passage through the waters toward the promised land of a creation reconciled with the love of God.”
Nicodemus, however, misunderstood this, and questioned his old age. Faced with the dream of an eternal youth that invariably withers away, how could he imagine a destiny that took the form of birth?
“Nicodemus’s objection is very instructive for us. We can, in fact, turn it upside down, in the light of Jesus’s word, with the discovery of a mission proper to old age.”
According to the pontiff, being old is not only not an obstacle to birth from above of which Jesus spoke about, but it provides an opportunity to illuminate it.
“Our epoch and our culture, which demonstrate a worrisome tendency to consider the birth of a child as the simple matter of the production and biological reproduction of the human being, cultivate the myth of eternal youth as the desperate obsession with an incorruptible body.”
Old age is despised in so many ways because it shows that the myth of eternal youth is not real. Of course, nowadays, we can keep the body alive with medicine and surgery, which slow down, hide, and remove old age.
“Everything is done to always have this youth – so much make-up, so many surgical interventions to appear young.” However, “The words of a wise Italian actress, [Anna] Magnani, come to mind”. Indeed, “when they told her she had to remove her wrinkles, she said, ‘No, don’t touch them! It took so many years to have them’.”
Wrinkles are “a sign of experience, a sign of life, a sign of maturity, a sign of having made a journey. Do not touch them to become young, that your face might look young. What matters is the entire personality; it’s the heart that matters, and the heart remains with the youth of good wine – the more it ages the better it is.”
Life in the mortal flesh is a beautiful "unfinished” business, like certain works of art whose unique charm lies precisely in their incompleteness, Francis noted. What is more, “life in our mortal flesh is too small a space and time to keep it intact and to bring to fulfillment in the world’s time the most precious part of our existence.”
By contrast, faith opens us up to an inner dimension. Once we accept the evangelical proclamation of the Kingdom of God to which we are destined, then we can “see” the Kingdom of God.
From this perspective, old age takes on a unique beauty: that of walking towards the Eternal. It is thus “a special time of disassociating the future from the technocratic illusion of a biological and robotic survival, especially because it opens one to the tenderness of the creative and generative womb of God.”
To this end, the pontiff stressed “the tenderness of the elderly”, inviting invited us to look at the way grandparents stroke their grandchildren. Such “tenderness, free of any human distress, [. . .] has conquered the trials of life and is able to give love freely, the loving nearness of one person to others. This tenderness opens the door toward understanding God’s tenderness. This is what God is like, he knows how to embrace.”
Following the catechesis, Pope Francis lamented again today’s “throwaway culture”, noting that “the elderly are the messengers of the wisdom of lived experience.”
Finally, greeting Polish-speaking pilgrims, the Holy Father noted that today is the feast day of Saint Jadwiga ‘Hedwig), Queen of Poland, Apostle of Lithuania, and foundress of Jagiellonian University, Krakow (Poland).
"During her canonisation, Saint John Paul II said that through her work Poland was united with Lithuania and Rus'. Entrust yourselves to her intercession, praying like her at the foot of the Cross for peace in Europe.”
Photo: Vatican Media