A Feast of Encounter between Generations

“When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.”
– Psalm 94:19

Today Christians celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord commemorating when Jesus was brought to the temple by Mary and Joseph.

About this feast, Pope Francis says:

The day after tomorrow, 2 February, we will celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, when Simeon and Anna, both elderly, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, recognised Jesus as the Messiah. The Holy Spirit still stirs up thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly today: Their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and safeguards the roots of peoples. They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young.

Simeon is described in Luke’s gospel as being a man “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel” and of Anna it is said that she “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Both were elderly and devout. Like many elderly people in the world today, their piety was a sign of contradiction against the conventions of their society.

When we notice that it is often elderly people who worship God, do we presume they are bored, lonely, and afraid or that maybe, just maybe, they know more than we do about what matters eternally?

Pope Francis has just established a World Day of Grandparents and Elderly. And so, I was intrigued to receive these photos from a good friend of mine that demonstrates how Middle Eastern Christians have been honouring the elderly believers among them in conjunction with today’s feast for a long time.

The photos are from St. Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Mosul in 2013 and were posted by Alkhoury Yousif Albanna with this caption, which I thank my friend for translating:

An inherited ancient tradition in the Archdiocese of Mosul honouring the blessed elderly believers while reading the Gospel and presenting them as role models for young people as examples of fitting Christian conduct. What a beautiful sign it is and what expressive spiritual practice.

In reflecting on the value of the elderly, I recall one of my favourite things Pope Francis has ever said: “We, the elderly, can remind young ambitious people that a life without love is arid. We can say to young people who are afraid that anxiety about the future can be beaten. We can teach young people too in love with themselves that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. The words of grandparents have something special for young people. And they know it.”

The encounter between generations is always a feast of life.

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