By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent
In 1996, when Franciscan Sister Robert Marie Green retired as principal of Corpus Christi School, Willingboro, after 36 years in education, she was determined to try something new.
She went on to become the pastoral associate in Corpus Christi Parish and found herself wanting “to reach out to the elderly, visit the sick and bring them consolation,” she said. “There weren’t any groups or services for seniors then.”
She took the Eucharist to shut-ins and organized the first recreation groups, which more than 100 seniors joined. She eventually invited them to share her ministry volunteering in inner-city Philadelphia soup kitchens.
Daily prayer, Eucharist and Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s words, “Do the best wherever you are,” fueled her faith in action.
“We grow as we get older,” Sister Robert Marie said. “The more you deal with people, life, and death, you learn what’s important. You pray, and you keep going.”
Sister Robert Marie is just one example of how the faithful, as they age, see their spirituality change and oftentimes, grow.
When Sister of St. Joseph Pat McClure brings the Eucharist to shut-ins, she considers herself an “ambassador of joy for my best friend, Jesus. I am grateful I can share my faith and joy of the Lord.”
“I live in a convent where the Blessed Sacrament is always near,” she said. “The reality of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is a great truth and support in my life.”
Sister Pat oversees the finances for the aftercare program at St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, where she gives lessons on faith and prayer to one class each month. She is happy to provide lessons on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary.
“We’re in a rich time in the Church. People speak about their faith with joy and meaning,” she said. It is a gift she shares with a new generation.
At 92, Julian Wszolek remains a cheerful mainstay in St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton, where he is a sacristan. He unlocks the church doors, prepares the altar and vessels, then waits, ready to assist with Mass if needed. He enjoys greeting his fellow parishioners because “respecting people and yourself gives you power to worship God more. You can’t find God if you pray in church and then do bad things to others.”
Prayer comes easily to him, he said. “It makes me younger. I think God is taking care of me. Some don’t believe in it, but I tell them to do good things, and prayer will come.”
His love of Church and country keeps him busy. The World War II veteran, who works with several veterans’ organizations, said he lives the advice he gives.
“There are so many people in need. Be active – do something,” he said.
Lessons in Retirement
Now retired, Msgr. Ronald Bacovin said his image of God has changed in his more than 50 years of priesthood and after having served the Diocese in numerous capacities, including as a pastor and diocesan director of priest personnel.
“As a child, I could put my arms around God and hold on. Now, God is much too big even to hold his hand,” he said. “There is so much mystery and wonder. What gives me balance and knowledge of God is the Lord Jesus. I can look at him and know all I need to know about God. I see God reflected in the wonderful people I have met.”
The challenges of aging, said Msgr. Bacovin – who resides in Villa Vianney, the retirement home for diocesan priests in Lawrenceville – have taught him to “look beyond what you see in people. You never see what’s really happening in their lives. That keeps me balanced, less judgmental.”
Deacon John Flanagan of St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, described two spiritual breakthroughs he has had over the years.
“When the world taught me I was second-best, I learned a lesson: Christ accepts us without condition as long as we surrender to his will and accepts us for what we do with our gifts and talents, however imperfectly,” he said.
When he learned to recognize the humanity of Jesus, “Prayer became a personal matter. I could chat with Jesus as a good friend to whom I could complain. My prayer became interactive rather than routine,” he said. “When I work with suffering people, I see Jesus as the suffering servant in them.”
Citing Scripture from Romans 8:28, Deacon Flanagan said, “We know everything works for good for those who love God.”
Spirituality in Illness
When it comes to working for God, age isn’t the only aspect that can affect seniors. Illness can be a game-changer, too, which is something Father Charles Weiser knows well. A recurrence of cancer followed soon after he retired as pastor of St. Michael Parish, West End, forcing lifestyle changes.
“Meals were a big part of recreation but now are problematic,” said Father Weiser, who marked his 50th jubilee of priesthood this year and is living in residence in St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake. “Learning to adjust is hard. Life used to be more spontaneous. Everything takes a lot more planning now.”
Father Weiser developed an “attitude of gratitude” back in the 1980s, which he calls “the ground floor on which to stand.”
“Each day I ask, ‘What do I have to be grateful for?’” he said. “I always liked control. I had to let that go. But now I am grateful the people I live with make things easier for me.”
In spite of retirement, his time in doctors’ offices and treatment rooms provide new situations where, he said, “I can be used effectively. I never initiate, but for some reason, a fellow patient will step through a door” seeking prayer and pastoral care.
Father Weiser said reciting the Rosary regularly has provided an anchor in his faith and life experiences.
“It brings you back to the basics, the storyline of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I try to imagine the events, the sights, the sounds. It keeps me grounded. I try to be aware of placing myself in the presence of God. Where is God in this illness? God’s in all of it. That’s the point.”[[In-content Ad]]