Social Justice: Ways to honor older Americans in our parishes

By Barbara Budde
Columnist

In our Catholic tradition May is a month when we honor Mary, who is worthy of honor and veneration. However the secular calendar in the U.S. invites us to keep May as Older Americans month. I think that Mary would be honored to share her month with all elders! 
Here are a few ideas that involve the parish only and a few that connect seniors in the parish with other resources:
 Pray with and for seniors and include older parishioners in the prayers of the faithful. 
We can all pay attention and notice if a senior who usually faithfully attends Mass stops coming. They may be sick and in need of prayers; they may need a ride and don’t want to be a burden to anyone. We can show that we are truly a community of love by paying attention.
Respect and utilize the wisdom and experience of older parishioners. Many retired persons are parishes’ best volunteers, but remember to encourage them to train others and pass their wisdom and experience along so all can benefit from it. 
Respect and honor the limitations that might come with the aging process. One senior reminded me that she does not want to shake hands during the sign of peace, not because she does not want to share the peace of Christ with others, but because she has arthritis and others who don’t notice will squeeze her hand causing intense pain. Other seniors have mentioned that the doors of their church are so heavy they can’t open them anymore. We can all help one another by being attentive to the aging process.
Older parishioners who are homebound can still be included in parish ministries. Invite these parishioners to “adopt” a parish ministry as a prayer partner. Their participation will be to pray for all engaged in that ministry and to ask God’s blessings on all that ministry seeks to do for the parish. This can offer a meaningful connection for those whose days of active ministry might be concluding.
Become familiar with the opportunities and services offered by state and non-profit agencies in the area. Parishes can’t provide every service older parishioners might want and need. However there may be other agencies that can help. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) has resources and programs that can be of great assistance to older parishioners as well as for care-givers. DADS has a host of programs designed to help seniors stay healthy and independent as well as services for seniors when they need more assistance. Visit www.dads.state.tx.us for more information.
Another service available to seniors is through the Area Agency on Aging. There are several in our diocese (Capital Area –– 10 counties around Austin; Heart of Texas –– Waco area; Brazos Valley for eastern counties). These Area Agencies on Aging assist seniors with information and referral, benefits counseling and many more services. If our parishes know about these resources, then they can help connect older parishioners to them. (Visit www.n4a.org to find the Area Agency on Aging for your town or parish).
All of us are aging and at some point in our lives all of us will face the diminishment that comes with the aging process. Our parishes can and should provide the spiritual support we need to move through our lives and stay connected to God’s loving grace all through our lifetime. Our parishes can also be places where older parishioners are honored and valued for the many contributions they make. Finally, our parishes can be helpful to older parishioners by being able to connect them to services available through governmental agencies. Through prayer, involvement and referrals, may we honor our older parishioners and walk with them through a stage in life that comes to all of us.

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