5 February 2019
When was the last time you spoke to your grandparents? Did you speak to them over the weekend? (a few hands go up).
As is often the case, I got to Sunday without having had any inspiration about what to speak to you about today. However, I was fortunate enough to near Fr Macnab’s homily on the feast of Candlemas yesterday and an idea came to me. I don’t know if you believe that the Holy Spirit exists, but I do, and I think that it came to me yesterday with what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins calls its “bright wings” to inspire me.
I think that one test of a good sermon is that it makes you imagine the lives, thoughts, feelings and experiences of the people in the story. I certainly found myself thinking yesterday about Simeon, the old man, who is inspired by the Holy Spirit, St Luke tells us, to go to the temple, where he encounters Our Lord as a baby, takes him in his arms and then knows that he can “depart in peace” from this life because his eyes have “seen the salvation”. Little details in the text can set us off thinking, and I found myself wondering if Simeon was lonely, as many old people are, and that maybe he wasn’t going to go to the temple that day, which as Fr Macnab told us would have been full of families from all over Galilee bringing their first born sons to be presented there. Perhaps it was a long journey for him; perhaps the weather was stiflingly hot. But the Spirit called him and he went, with the wonderful results we hear of in the Gospel.
Old people can be lonely. The charity Age UK says that 3.6 million older people live alone. Perhaps their partners have died (like the other old person in the Gospel story, Anna, who was only married for seven years we’re told, before being widowed); perhaps their children, if they have them, and grandchildren live far away. Age UK say that loneliness can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. And of course older people are often not quite as technologically literate as you, so can’t use mobile technology to communicate with their loved ones: my father has a mobile for when he travels without my mum, but he tends to keep it switched off to save the battery!
We can learn so much from older people. I think that some other cultures honour the grandparent generation much better than we do in the UK. Old people have amazing stories to tell and have seen a lot; I’m always struck when reading obituaries by what people have done, especially the fast-fading generation who lived through the Second World War, often performing incredibly heroic acts of courage and self-sacrifice then moving to a village or town and living quietly, modestly only rarely talking of their actions, if at all.
We should engage with older people; we will be old one day. Don’t be afraid to chat to old people when you meet them: they are just people, but we can learn a lot from them. One of the best things Oratorians do is visit old people on Thursday afternoons in Community Service. Like Simeon and Anna, who had the wisdom to recognise God in a little baby, they have much wisdom from which we can learn. Call your grandparents soon and have a good long chat; you’ll miss them when they’re gone.