One of the serious problems, not only in our country, but across the world, is the problem of what to do with our aging population. Recently in Japan, because of the low birth rate and because of the advanced aging population of the Japanese, the Japanese legislature tried to pass a bill that would bring anywhere from 15 to 20 million people into Japan, young people, to do the work that the present elderly one day did. There is no question when you look back on the accomplishments of the elderly in our lifetime that their track record is quite remarkable. It was our grandparents and our forebearers who built the Churches and the colleges, the universities and the hospitals and set up many of the wonderful opportunities that the young people of today have. But the mentality and the culture of our day is what have you done for me lately – which is a tragedy.
All of us were taught by reason of the fourth commandment to honor our mothers and fathers. Yet today we find in nursing homes throughout the country that seven out of ten people in nursing homes, mothers and fathers, never get a visitor from the day they enter till the day they die. There is no question that the young married couples today have tremendous stress. There is no question that to live in this community, both parents have to work if they have ordinary incomes. Now, because a lot of the elderly do not want to go into nursing homes or assisted living situations, many of the elderly in our country in less then fifteen years will be forced to go back to live with their own sons and daughters adding more stress and tension to both their parents and their children.
Less we feel too sorry for the elderly, they are probably in a better financial position today than in the last fifty years. They comprise 66% of all stockholders in our country. They own about 40% of all mutual funds. They purchase 41% of all new cars. They own over 40 million credit cards and own 38% of all life insurance. When you analyze their financial picture, they are a strong, strong group. Next to the Catholic Church the most powerful not for profit group in the country is AARP.
In the year 1900 the average man lived to be forty seven years of age. In the year 2000 the average man’s life span is seventy six years of age and that of his wife is about seven years longer. Politicians are well aware of the tremendous voting block that the elderly make up. Just for political knowledge, it is interesting to note that 70% of the Americans who voted in 1996 were over 65 years of age, compared to only 33% between the ages of 18 and 24.
The problem of aging has been more complicated by the low birth rate, by birth control practices all throughout the country. The birth rate in Japan has declined so badly that recently Japanese broadcasters made a television commercial of a small boy with a small puppy. And the caption in the commercial was, wouldn’t it be nicer if he had another brother or sister. Because of the culture in which we live, the respect for the elderly has diminished considerably. When our country was an agricultural country, people for the most part associated with the farms, the elderly were treated with great respect. When we became an industrial country and people left the farm that sense of respect for those who stayed on the farms died. Now that we are a country of technology which has an awful lot of impersonalism built into its structure, gerontologists predict that the future of the elderly will be as impersonal as the new advances in technology.
When you consider all of the complications of the aging civilization, the aging nations and our aging country, it is incumbent upon each one of us to develop a life style that helps you to provide for your own wants and needs, but also prepares you to get grounded with a sense of spirituality that will help you get through each passing day. Any person fifth or over knows that you are the older person in just a short time. You might have been a baby boomer yesterday, but tomorrow you join the ranks of the senior citizen. And if there is any quality that has to be developed during the course of our lives, and especially as we age, it is a quality of a deep personal spirituality. When you read all the books today that are being written about the aging of our country, you always hear about the one or two that can walk three thousand miles across our country and climb Mount Everest or Mount McKinley, but for the most part for the normal person aging is a hard process of life. Albert Camus one time said it very succinctly when he said the age of our people who have a life where their winter is darkness and we must teach them how to enjoy an invincible summer.
The quality of aging is something that was denied Christ and most of his apostles. When you look back in history, Christ and his apostles did not live too many years on this earth. Because of the advances in antibiotics, medicine and nutrition, thank God, all of us have a better life than those ancestors from the past, but it is still incumbent upon each one of us to develop a spirituality that links us to God, teaches us how to live one day at a time and enjoy to the fullest the time that god allots us on this earth. One of the worst things that can happen to any older person is to start worrying about his mortality, emphasize his aches and pains, and fail to look upon each day as a new challenge and new opportunity for a happier life style. As Emily Dickinson said, if you can prevent one sparrow from falling or one heart from breaking, you have not lived in vain. There are hundreds of opportunities given to every person no matter how old you are to get the best out of life. This is what Robert Browning had in mind when he said, grow old with me, the best is yet to come. But again, spirituality cultivated now is the key to what our aging process will bring into our lives.
When do you develop that spirituality. You develop it now, not tomorrow, but now. And what kind of spirituality do you look for? It is one of consistency and furthering the work of God on earth. No one is that old that he or she cannot cultivate a new friend on earth and no one is that weak that they cannot cultivate a more solid friendship with God on earth. If you look at the teachings of Jesus Christ, he made it very clear when he said, I did not come from heaven to earth to call you my servants, but to call you my friends. And spirituality means cultivating a solid friendship with Jesus Christ on earth while we are here. If God, in the person of Jesus Christ, were to have a private audience with you concerning your spirituality he would ask you did you feed my hungry, did you clothe my naked, did you forgive those who trespassed against you, did you help those who were in need and want by the deep personal compassion that only you can give?
I think all of us know, no matter how successful we are, that at the hour of our death it does not make too much difference, especially as we age, how many credit cards we have, how much insurance we have, how large a home we have, at the hour of our death. In our relationship with God what matter is this – God is desirous of saying to you, well done, good and faithful servant, this day you will be with me in paradise. And all of that will be realized by each one of us according to the spirituality that we develop now.