Pastoral Message on Growing Older Within the Faith Community
A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. (Eccl 3:1)
Arriving at an older age is to be considered a privilege: not simply because not everyone has the good fortune to reach this stage in life, but also, and above all, because this period provides real possibilities for better evaluating the past, for knowing and living more deeply the Paschal Mystery, for becoming an example in the Church for the whole People of God.
We are facing an unprecedented situation in the United States. At the beginning of the twentieth century, one in every twenty-five people in the United States was 65 or older. Today one in eight—a total of 33.2 million Americans—is at least 65. A person who reaches 65 can expect to live for seventeen more years; many live well beyond that.
Both society and the Church are just beginning to grapple with the social, economic, and spiritual implications of this rapidly growing age group. The Vatican, in its own contribution to the International Year, has urged Catholics to make a new commitment not only to care for older persons but to learn from them. Inspired by this challenge, we, the U.S. Catholic bishops, offer this reflection on the experience of growing older within the faith community.
We speak out of profound gratitude for the many ways in which faithful and generous older Catholics have built—and continue to build—the Church.
We write as learners who together with older persons explore the period that some now call the "third age." We learn from the many cultural heritages of our older people. Various customs, traditions, and contributions tremendously enrich the Church.
We write as pastors who cherish the whole person, with his or her gifts and talents as well as limitations and vulnerabilities. We stand firm in opposing euthanasia, assisted suicide, and all that threatens the dignity and sacredness of human life.