A catechesis of hope. What does that mean? What evidence have we for it in the Church today?
187. Catechesis for the aged pays particular attention to certain aspects of their condition of faith. An aged person may have a rich and solid faith, in which case catechesis, in a certain sense, brings to fulfilment a journey of faith in an attitude of thanksgiving and hopeful expectation. Others live a faith weakened by poor Christian practice. In this case, catechesis becomes a moment of new light and religious experience. Sometimes people reach old age profoundly wounded in body and soul. In these circumstances, catechesis can help them to live their condition in an attitude of prayer, forgiveness and inner peace.
At any rate, the condition of the old calls for a catechesis of hope, which derives from the certainty of finally meeting God. It is always a personal benefit and an enrichment of the Christian community, when the old bear witness to a faith which grows even more resplendent as they gradually approach the great moment of meeting the Lord.
The matter of catechesis for the old is less a situation that elderly people either still have something to learn, or who have moved beyond learning in some sense. One of the larger obstacles, as we’ve seen, is that post-Confirmation Catholic adulthood has set certain expectations in the faithful. Even formation for marriage and infant baptism carries with it the burden that these moments of catechesis are more hoops for the people than moments of deepening faith. The graduation message has been learned well.
One largely unexplored region would be those who have reached a state of physical weakness in their final years. The Church permits–even encourages the sacrament of anointing of the sick in this situation, even when no serious illness is present. What does that suggest? To me, it involves the utilization of anointing as a sacrament of vocation. A new stage of life has been reached. A new way of experiencing Christ and the Paschal Mystery. What is involved is more than just the reception of knowledge, the search for meaning, and some state of peace, if not grace. As we read in GDC 186, there are not only rights accorded older people, but duties as well. Of course, that implies we honor earlier days in which the elderly were valued members of a family and community, respected for wisdom–the integration of knowledge and experience.