Halt in existential uncertainty

Halt in existential uncertainty

Believers in prayer © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Looking around at Sunday Mass, in many parishes it is older people who participate in the celebration. Especially in old age, faith seems to give them support. But is this really so? A rapprochement.

"It's freezing cold inside. Souls no longer attract me – heaven means nothing."This sentence does not come from a bitter atheist at the end of his days, but from no less a person than Mother Teresa. The Albanian benefactress of the Indians, who was condemned by the Catholic Church on 4. The saint, who was canonized in September 2016, made no secret of her doubts about her faith throughout her life. Pope Francis thought that the nun was predestined to become a saint because she addressed her shocks and crises of meaning.

After all, did not Jesus also fall into despair when, on the eve of his death on the cross, he asked the Father that the cup might pass from him?. And still on the cross he lamented: "My God, why have you forsaken me??"

But what about all those people in advanced age who are not called to be saints, who do not have the strength to endure this inner contradiction, to act in Christian charity even when their love for God and the world has been exhausted?

Fear of death sustains faith

The old black-robed mother kneeling in church long shaped our cultural image of old age and faith. It was taken for granted that people would keep their childlike faith into old age – "that they may become like children," as the Bible says.

But this was true in times when tradition still determined the role attributions. With the individualization of lifestyles, the framework of tradition has been broken down. The individualization of lifestyles means that one is no longer accountable only to God and the confessor, but also to oneself. The need to come to terms with one's soul through one's life balance sheet, instead of humbly accepting life as a fateful divine providence, has increased.

When in old age physical ailments are added and one has to cope with the dwindling of one's strength, it is often rather the fear of death that keeps one's faith, despite one's strife with one's own existence. Whereas the Christian faith was once the only provider of meaning for such profound questions, people can now live among countless spiritual offerings on the market of religious possibilities. This offer does not contribute to the stability of faith; the choice between many options can even increase existential insecurity.

Children and grandchildren are turning away from the church

The seminal Catholic theologian Karl Rahner named the specific task of old age: "To bring our lives before us". Keeping in mind what lies behind us in order to look ahead with greater strength of soul. Franciscan Father Franz Richartz, spiritual director of Ohrbeck Monastery in Georgsmarienhutte, also addresses the question of what constitutes faith in old age in his educational center. "In old age, we are ultimately confronted quite existentially with the question: What do you really believe?? What is it like when your life comes to an end now?? What holds you, what carries you? Can you let go?"

Father Richartz, during his pastoral visits to old people's homes, as he explained in the church newspaper of the diocese of Osnabruck, repeatedly meets elderly people who struggle with the fact that their own children and grandchildren are turning away from the church or complain about "how much [they] were brought up in too narrow moral boundaries and now have their dear trouble relying on their own feelings and conscience." People who, moreover, find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on praying.

Helpful church service attendance

Growing older presents people with new trials, such as the challenge of letting go, getting through it and finding it, with increasing loneliness and loss of competence, writes the head of the psycho-oncology department at the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen, Monika Renz, in her article "What becomes important in the end" in the May ie of the magazine "Publik-Forum" (6/2017). She constructs a question of meaning from this: Doesn't life carry to us the question of our own deep truth: "Who am I really? What must I do, whose accept me?"

And Renz even goes one step further: At some point, even the search for one's own identity is as if obsolete. One's own being always encompasses more than what is visible from the "I".

Despite the spiritual challenge that faith faces in old age, Father Richartz says there is also practical advice for older people with faith difficulties. It is helpful to go to church services. "Faith does not have to be perfect, but it can be supported by praying together. So we can move from faith that becomes harder for us to faith that becomes deeper for us."

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