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Column: Becoming an old hand at life

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. he has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

OK, this is officially scary. People say that time flies by faster the older you get. Honestly, it seems like only yesterday that I was celebrating my birthday and already another one is coming on Sunday. I need a good laugh right now, and this story does the trick:

During a trial in a small Mississippi town, the prosecuting attorney called a tiny, grandmotherly woman to the stand. After being sworn in, the lawyer asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?”

She responded, “Yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a little boy and, frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”

“Why, yes, I do,” she replied. “I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife.”

The defense attorney nearly died.

Suddenly, the judge interrupted and summoned both counselors to the bench. In a very quiet voice, he said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair!”

Way to go, Mrs. Jones.

Although you regularly see this “true” story bandied about the Internet, often complete with a picture of “Mrs. Jones,” it’s just a funny fabrication. Still, it is amusing and reminds me of the uninhibited honesty that often comes with age.

One of the most humbling and rewarding things that I do as a priest each month is to visit the shut-ins of the parish and to say Mass at an assisted living facility and at a nursing home. Unlike Mrs. Jones, though, these elderly people are candid in a much more charitable way.

Here are some of the life lessons I’ve learned from them:

While they’re very aware of their aches and pains — which are often quite severe and challenging — those infirmities pale in the face of their deep faith in God’s help and presence in their lives. I’m always uplifted by their confident belief in, and eagerness to see, Jesus and their loved ones in heaven.

The elderly have a deep appreciation for the sacraments. Particularly during the anointing of the sick, my eyes often tear up as I put oil on wrinkled foreheads and arthritic hands. So many times, these senior citizens express great dismay that they’re no longer able to come to Mass. They miss the joy and support that comes from gathering with fellow Catholics. Whenever I’m feeling exhausted at the prospect of celebrating “yet another Mass,” I think of those confined to care facilities or home and realize how blessed I am to have the health and opportunity to be at Mass.

These older Catholics also remind me of how much the smallest things can mean to them: Spending a few minutes visiting, singing “Happy birthday” on someone’s special day, or passing out some holy cards — all of these bring a smile and a little light to an often long and lonely day.

Seeing these seniors using a computer or reading books on a Kindle reminds me that we never stop learning in life and that “new tricks” can always be learned if you’re willing to take a risk.

And they love to laugh and make me laugh. Several years ago at the nursing center, a resident was brought into the room where we had Mass. She’d just gotten out of bed and was still a little foggy.

She practically shouted, “Where am I?” A woman next to her said that she was at Mass.

“What?” the sleepy woman asked. Patiently, her neighbor said, “Mass! We’re having Catholic Mass!”

“Who’s doing it?” was her next question. “Father Mark. Father Mark from Sacred Heart!” came the reply.

“Oh,” she responded, loud enough for the whole room to hear. “He’s so handsome!”

Granted, she was half-asleep and had probably left her glasses in her room . . . but, still, her comment warmed my heart!

Although I’m not there yet, this prayer for the golden years reminds me of how I can better treat the aging:

“Blessed are they who understand/ My faltering step and palsied hand.

Blessed are they who know my ears today/Must strain to catch the things they say.

Blessed are they who seem to know/ That my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.

Blessed are they with a cheery smile/ Who stop to chat for a little while.

Blessed are they who never say,/“You’ve told that story twice today.”

Blessed are they who know the ways/ To bring back memories of yesterdays.

Blessed are they who make it known/ That I’m loved, respected, and not alone.

Blessed are they who ease the days/ On my journey Home, in loving ways.”

As I celebrate a new year of life, I pray that I — like these elders — may embody the adage that says: When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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