Last year, Pope Francis established World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, a day to remind everybody that ‘old age is a gift’ and that the elderly are not to be forgotten. This year’s message takes its cue from the psalmist who writes that the righteous will ‘flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old’ (Psalm 92:14–15).

The idea of ‘still bearing fruit’ when we are old ‘runs counter to what the world thinks about this stage of life,’ Pope Francis says. Rather than seeing old age as something we must approach with ‘grim resignation’ or harbouring ‘few expectations’, the Bible sees the elderly as ‘a living sign of the goodness of God who bestows life in abundance’.

‘Blessed is the house where an old person lives!’ he says. ‘Blessed is the family that honours the elderly!’

We should resist the subtle temptations that come with the modern world, the temptations to leave the elderly behind or make them feel they should be left behind:

The fast pace of the world—with which we struggle to keep up—seems to leave us no alternative but to implicitly accept the idea that we are useless.

What the Bible invites us to consider, however, is that ageing ‘is not a condemnation, but a blessing!’

Do not lower the sails!

Pope Francis laments the fact that even though we ‘expend large sums on this stage of life,’ we fail to help people ‘understand and appreciate it’, offering ‘healthcare plans to the elderly but not plans for living this age to the full’.

Though the body declines and our strength ebbs in old age, he says, it is ‘no time to give up and lower the sails’. Instead, old age invites us into a ‘new mission’ and ‘bids us look to the future.’

He encourages people to try to remain as physically active as possible in their later years, but also suggests, more importantly, that people remain spiritually active:

We ought to cultivate our interior life through the assiduous reading of the word of God, daily prayer, reception of the sacraments and participation in the liturgy. In addition to our relationship with God, we should also cultivate our relationships with others: first of all by showing affectionate concern for our families, our children and grandchildren … These things will help us not to feel like mere bystanders, sitting on our porches or looking out from our windows, as life goes on all around us.

The vocation of old age: artisans of a revolution

Pope Francis encourages grandparents and the elderly to become part of the ‘revolution of tenderness’ he wishes to see in the world.

‘Many of us have come to a sage and humble realization,’ he says, ‘that we are not saved alone, and that happiness is a bread we break together.’

He observes that the elderly have the opportunity to be ‘teachers of a way of life that is peaceful and attentive of those in greatest need’. Sometimes this attitude is ‘mistaken for weakness or resignation, yet it will be the meek, not the aggressive and the abusive, who will inherit the earth.’

Pope Francis offers an invitation to everyone walking through old age:

Dear grandparents, dear elderly persons, we are called to be artisans of the revolution of tenderness in our world! Let us do so by learning to make ever more frequent and better use of the most valuable instrument at our disposal and, indeed, the one best suited to our age: prayer.

Finally, he calls upon the intercession of the Mother of God to help us embrace this vocation: ‘Let us ask Our Lady, Mother of Tender Love, to make all of us artisans of the revolution of tenderness, so that together we can set the world free from the spectre of loneliness and the demon of war.’

The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly will take place this Sunday, 24 July 2022.