One of the things that I love about the Jesuits is that they never “retire.” When a Jesuit becomes elderly or infirm, he is given a new assignment by his Provincial, namely, to pray for the success of the mission and ministries of the Society of Jesus at one of the Jesuit assisted-living facilities. The message is clear: every member of the Jesuits, no matter what age, is still valued and considered an integral member of the Society.
Perhaps this is why Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit, has devoted much energy to encouraging a deeper respect and appreciation for the elderly. In a homily in 2013, Pope Francis said, “The elderly pass on history, doctrine, faith and they leave them to us as inheritance.…The wisdom of our grandparents is the inheritance we ought to receive. A people that does not care for its grandparents, that does not respect its grandparents, has no future since it has lost its memory.”
We can do well to integrate this line of thinking in our faith formation programs by creating connections between young people and the elders of the community. Those who are elders can be invited to “adopt” young people in the faith formation program and to pray for them regularly. Young people can write cards and letters to the elderly, informing them of what they are learning in faith formation and assuring them of their prayers.
One resource that can assist you in your efforts to build bridges between the young and those who are elderly is a new book by Pope Francis and friends—Sharing the Wisdom of Time—which highlights the wisdom of elders from all over the world and invites young people to enter into dialogue with them and to learn from them.
What are some of the ways that you are building bridges between generations?