Old age is changing

How old are you? I am guessing that the age of most of you who regularly use this site, are younger, perhaps very much younger, than me. I am approaching 87, and I find that my mental capacities have changed considerably over the last few years. Of course everyone will be different but perhaps a description of the kinds of things I have experienced may be valuable or, at least, interesting.

Everyone accepts that that they will eventually die, but we are able to put that thought on one side most of the time — it is such a long way off. But, at 87, notwithstanding my reasonable capacities, it is suddenly quite close.  I have a good friend, Barney, of equivalent age who says: ‘Three months at our age is about the same period as three years for an earlier age.’ My father died in his seventies, but nowadays that seems to be ten years too soon.

I do have one ‘age’ disability: my memory is failing. So I have to surround myself with note books so that I can record notes of what is said to me, or what I must do tomorrow or the day after. I prefer people to send me an email rather than to telephone: the telephone message whisks off into mid air, the email remains in front of me.

I am not going to swank by telling you that I have a good family, I always knew they were. Through this last year or so, they have given me tremendous support, but I expected that already. In fact I often have to be careful not  to mention all my needs — my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren (27 in all) have their own responsibilities. Within a few minutes of my writing I will be visited by a 6 month old grandchild. He and I just giggle. (Yes, indeed, he came — with his dad and grandad. We are all helping him with his early walking skills — giggle, giggle, giggle.)

As a cradle Catholic I would have once assumed that I would accept my religious orthodoxy right up to the end. But in fact the closeness of the ‘end’ has brought about some changes in my mind.

One of them is relatively minor. I am aware of the emphasis the Church puts on the nature of its composition as a group, and I am, as it happens less than 50 yards from one of its finest parish churches. Yet, I vastly prefer to attend Mass through my computer. I am conscious of the value of its congregation but I prefer to listen and understand. I am joined by an old friend, and we have the time to share our thoughts.

More important is the Church’s emphasis on morality and, in particular, the ‘natural law’. Not surprisingly, it was thought that the Almighty’s law was expressed on created nature — from which we can infer the good and the bad. But it’s not so: the Almighty created evolution. This is a marvelous system which broadly ensures that inheritable skills and characteristics succeed because they are promoted through breeding.

This means they could change. The obvious example, of course, was artificial contraception. It was realized that only roughly two born babies per couple were nowadays required to maintain the population. Previously, infantile mortality required much large families.The Church was, and still is, prohibited by its ancient rules, based on ancient conditions — but they needn’t have bothered.

So, for instance, I have no problem with homosexuality — yes it can be promiscuous and damaging but, for the right person in the right situation, it need not be.

I come back to the summary of moral law, as described in the New Testament: the love of ourselves and the love of our neighbour. It is these commands against which I nowadays measure moral choices.

I think, for instance, of my old friend, Barney. He has a lady friend of a similar age. They are both widowed and each have a family in support. And yes, they have an intermittent sexual relationship. As Barney said to me: “At least we don’t have to use contraception!” I know that formal teaching would condemn their sexual element. But, if it enables them to have a happier and more meaningful life, would I not feel that they were justified?

What do you think?

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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27 Responses to Old age is changing

  1. John Thomas says:

    Yes … old age (myself, I turned 70 on 31/1/21; Physically I am more like mid-80s, but mentally I feel about 60; yes, I am much LESS “conservative” in my artistic tastes (Modernist art, architecture) than I was in the 1970s, but perhaps – unlike you, Quentin – MORE conservatiive theolgically … I would prefer the term “orthodox” … than then (I studied modern theology in 1969-72; I was a bit sceptical of it then, and I am very sceptical of it now; we now know where it leads: look at the Episcopal Church USA – see where “Liberalism” leads … extinction … Coming to the Roman Catholic Church sometime soon?). I would give the Church of England (I am a cradle Angican) about 20-30 years (ECUSA, about 10-15; Anglicanism in the West is disappearing like water into sand; my guess is that “Liberalism” was the cause).

    No, Quentin, the Almighty did not “create” evolution, Darwin (+ friends and followers) did. “Evolution” is an idea, a mental concept, which did not exist circa 1750. The Almighty MAY have “used” something which we can sort-of identify with the modern concept; but that is a very different thing (besides, the modern concept, evolution, may give us moral problems that other ideas of creation don’t – let’s strengthen and defend our theodicy, if we can – evolution is used to justify rape … and many other bad things …)

  2. Iona says:

    77 here.
    Wondering what will become of the Head of the Church of England if that Church itself disappears into the sand.

    • ignatius says:

      I guess the office will remain though the title might be a little less grand. Presumably they are still ordaining priests who will still need a bishop to turn to and be disciplined by.

    • galerimo says:

      As in the Catholic Church Jesus is also professed to be the head of the Church of England and I feel confident that leadership there with continue, whatever turns and twists the political architecture takes.

  3. ignatius says:

    Quentin writes:

    “As a cradle Catholic I would have once assumed that I would accept my religious orthodoxy right up to the end. But in fact the closeness of the ‘end’ has brought about some changes in my mind.”

    If a man was to spend his life studying a particular mountain then he might find that over the course of his life his understanding of the mountain changed. Perhaps the man found caves to descend into and so reviewed his thoughts on the geological structure, or maybe he used modern methods to determine the age and fracture tendency of some of the mountains rocky strata. In the end his view of the mountain would have greatly changed.. but the mountain most likely carried on just being the same..

  4. ignatius says:

    Ooops.. 68 here! At this relatively young age I am beginning to discover mainly the paucity of my own thinking.. But also, thankfully that it doesn’t matter!

  5. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/08/01/old-age-is-changing/ ) :

    // How old are you? //

    Seventy-eight.

    // I do have one ‘age’ disability: my memory is failing. //

    Mine, too. And my judgement. I’m slowing cognitively, but that has benefits. Today, I’m driving my wife two hundred miles back home from a family reunion in her home town. I also drove her up. The trip is as pleasant as long drives can be, which, surprisingly, I find not bad at all. A large part of the reason is that I find I’m no longer pushed internally to keep up the speed in order to arrive as early as possible. I’m simply keeping to the slow lane, almost always simply following the car ahead of me, which is always traveling slower than the rest of the traffic. Almost no passing of other cars. Even trusting to cruise control fairly often. A very low stress exercise.

    An hour or so ago, halfway home, I had to choose which branch of an outer belt to take, east or west. I wanted to go east, but I chose the road marked west, though visualizing myself going east. After a few minutes I realized my error but decided to keep going and explore new territory. Discovered a pleasant town, and a pleasant Starbucks, where I’m sitting writing this. If my wife were not anxious to be on the road, I might stay for an hour or two more. Life is good.

  6. ignatius says:

    Iona wonders about the Cof E: I guess the office will remain though the title might be a little less grand. Presumably they are still ordaining priests who will still need a bishop to turn to and be disciplined by.

  7. Geordie says:

    There may be no monarch to be head of the C of E. If the monarch goes, then a president may take up the role; an islamic president, perhaps. I must be dreaming in my old age (80 in October).

  8. Ann says:

    I’m 44 and already have had alot of belief, mind changes regarding the Catholic faith. I suppose this can happen at any age, maybe due to life experiences. My mother is 83 and I see slow changes in her and I think her thoughts have changed too, though she doesn’t always discuss things to deeply.

  9. milliganp says:

    Regarding your later statements about sexuality today; a lot of my more conservative friends find Pope Francis’ “Who am I to Judge” deeply offensive to their moral sense.
    For the last 3 years my ministry is largely performing funeral rites for mainly unchurched people who have some remnant sense of God / heaven. The religious element might be as little as the hymn “All things bright and beautiful” and the Lord’s Prayer. I fell compelled to still offer them the hope of heaven / redemption even for lives lived with little concern for God or morality.
    I don’t think I’ve gone soft, just the reality of peoples lives and the premis of a God who loved the world so much that he sent his Son to redeem us leaves me hopeful that there is a pathway through lifes difficulties which can suffice to not warrant eternal damnation.
    As we get closer to the end of our own journeys we can, perhaps, look back and see the paths others have chosen as not so distant to our own. If I want to be saved, I have to hope that others can be too. The eye of the needle is to encourage and warn, not to condemn.

  10. ignatius says:

    It is well said that a religion small enough for the mind is not large enough for the heart.Also that the mind cannot know God. Only love has the reach and love is the blossom of belief.I think this slow dawning of true belief comes on us ,through the Holy Spirit, over the duration of our visible lives. As this personal blossoming proceeds we begin to divest ourselves of the hard shell of our fallen personal convictions, in other words, what with our hardened hearts and minds we have sincerely believed to be truth begins to melt away in the presence of grace. So of course our minds change, as they should and must.

    • ignatius says:

      I should add something by way of clarification: That which we ‘with hardened heart and mind’ have chosen to believe regarding the teaching of the Church is , most often, our own personal spin. Some of us tend towards leniency which we call ‘mercy,’ others tend towards criticism of self and others so causing them to favour law and what they call ‘justice’ The point I am trying to make is that only God has what is called the ‘complete gaze’ all of us see with blurred vision but God does not. So it is perfectly normal and hoped to be so that we will change in our perception of God (and therefore the church) as we go along. This does not mean that the object of our gaze is any different, merely that we have swopped our spectacles for a better pair. I guess the Church also goes through this process as the thousands of years pass.

      • milliganp says:

        I’m wary of suggesting my spectacles are better than someone elses, particularly those from the past who are now saints.

  11. Geordie says:

    I agree with “milliganp” that “The eye of the needle is to encourage and warn, not to condemn.” I get great comfort from Our Lord’s treatment of the Good Thief. Because of the shortage of priests, there is a strong possibility that we may not have the last sacraments when our turn comes but Our Lord’s mercy is boundless and He’ll be with us.

  12. galerimo says:

    Thank you, Quentin and congratulations on the achievement of so many years.

    At a mere 72, I consider myself to be at a very advanced stage of youth!

    I am recently returned from a camping trip in the Gibson desert with 5 good friends. Four of us are in our seventies, the others, in their 60’s and late 50’s.

    And our site was on the very ancient country of the Badimia Banda Barna people, ancient indeed, even on the oldest, flattest and driest continent on earth.

    You don’t feel very old when you stand in such ancient country. And visiting (with permission) the sacred sites of ritual tribal exchanges you realise how death is such an important part of our evolutionary processes.

    The place holds the longest continuous inhabitance by human beings on the planet going back at least fifty to sixty thousand years – long before Abraham gave his wife away, or Moses commited his first murder or King David, from whom Jesus is descended, raped Bathsheba.

    Long, long before the culture and religions of the Egyptians, the Celts, the Hebrews or the Greeks, these peoples, created in the image and likeness of God were making their way through life according to the wonderful light known to them.

    Few of my friends would claim any religious faith but their radiant charity, kindness and service in various ways to the enhancement of the lives of others makes me feel very honored to be among them.

    Yes we have made too much of a moralistic headmaster out of Jesus. He was God’s son and received God’s Holy Spirit to uncover and then fulfill his mission of bringing in God’s Kingdom.

    I think that is why He gives us the same Holy Spirit.

    Not to keep us preoccupied with his history but to move forward in our world and our lives with the same energy of God’s Holy Spirit assured of this unfailing company in our own age.

    No longer the geocentric cosmos he once inhabited but now to be understood in a radical different potential ways of chance and law.

    And ageing is indeed a great gift from God’s Holy Spirit for us and not known by Jesus.

    It is the space where those early days of compliance and achieving activities can give way to broader vision and broader understanding of our world, ourselves and our God.

    Ad multos annos!

  13. John Candido says:

    I am getting older too.

    The most significant advantage of getting older is reflecting and learning through life experience.

    You can’t buy it or pick it from a fruit tree!

    Quentin mentions his need to assist his memory through emails, diaries and paper notes.

    All very handy!

    I have no financial interest in the following product, but my appreciation compels me to tell others about its usefulness.

    It’s called ‘Authory’.

    its an online subscription service where you provide the website addresses of any sites where you have published written articles.

    They will find and collect them for you and enable you to look for any particular article that interests you that you have previously authored.

    https://authory.com/

  14. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/08/01/old-age-is-changing/#comment-64244 ) :

    // So it is perfectly normal and hoped to be so that we will change in our perception of God (and therefore the church) as we go along. This does not mean that the object of our gaze is any different, merely that we have swopped our spectacles for a better pair. I guess the Church also goes through this process as the thousands of years pass. //

    I’d beware of a temptation to fall in with one of the principal delusional beliefs of this age: the latest is always the best.

  15. ignatius says:

    David writes:
    “I’d beware of a temptation to fall in with one of the principal delusional beliefs of this age: the latest is always the best…”
    I’m not speaking of short term fads or the ‘latest’ thing, David. More the process of inner transformation to the point that we lay aside, more and more, our own deeply cherished opinions about liturgy, doctrine and indeed life to the point that we begin genuinely to love rather than religiously label. This process goes on in the lives of most of the saints we read about. If we listen to the aging of those around us (and in my professional life I do this a lot) then what becomes apparent is either a deepening of compassion and humility -or else a kind of collapse into cynicism. It seems to me that at different periods in its existence the Church follows the Zeitgeist too closely; but then- being full of sinners, what else would one expect?

  16. ignatius says:

    On a different note:
    Quentin writes:
    “One of them is relatively minor. I am aware of the emphasis the Church puts on the nature of its composition as a group, and I am, as it happens less than 50 yards from one of its finest parish churches. Yet, I vastly prefer to attend Mass though my computer. I am conscious of the value of its congregation but I prefer to listen and understand. I am joined by an old friend, and we have the time to share our thoughts.”

    I think, Quentin, that if you were indeed ‘aware’ of that emphasis and ‘conscious’ of the value (particularly to others) of congregation, then you would go. Perhaps not every week and maybe only once a month, but for the sake of the others you would go.

  17. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/08/01/old-age-is-changing/ ) :

    // Everyone accepts that that they will eventually die, but we are able to put that thought on one side most of the time — it is such a long way off. But, at 87, notwithstanding my reasonable capacities, it is suddenly quite close. //

    At seventy-eight, it’s also growing statistically closer for me. And I’m growing comfortable with that. As both body and mind slow, so does energy abate. I’m not a health addict, not even a bit. I realize that exercise would likely provide a slightly more healthy and active life, but I’m content to slack off. I’ve always been a slacker, and this is no time to reform. I’m a nervous sort, always on edge and always in a worried hurry. Slowing down is a relief. I’ve been retired for twenty years, but only now am I finally, at long last, beginning to relax, to stop worrying that, as I’ve long said of myself, I’m functionally stupid. So I am. Time to enjoy it. Thank God for mortality.

  18. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/08/01/old-age-is-changing/ ) :

    // I am aware of the emphasis the Church puts on the nature of its composition as a group, and I am, as it happens less than 50 yards from one of its finest parish churches. Yet, I vastly prefer to attend Mass through my computer. //

    About two years ago I came across a beautiful and lovingly maintained old Gothic Catholic church, about twenty miles away. Then the virus popped up and the bishop closed it down. It was already, because of a dwindling Catholic population (thank you, Vatican II), only a part-time church building, seldom open to the public. Lucky janitors. In my city, maybe five miles away from where I live, there is an oratory, which I’ve just discovered but never had the pleasure of visiting. Now the Pope has attacked the Extraordinary Form of the mass. Fate has conspired to keep me away from churches I might have found pleasure in attending, at least occasionally. And now, final blow of fate, old age and the politicians’ murderous lockdowns have turned me into a very lazy hermit. I’m not a television watcher. Something about it simply repels me. It didn’t used to, many years ago, but the strong dislike set in three decades ago, when I was only about fifty years old, and has remained a welcome and valued friend. As a result of that, even the thought of a televised mass turns my stomach. So, because of all that, unless my wife prevails on me to accompany her to her progressive Jesuit university parish church, or unless there’s an unavoidable funeral, it’s almost certain that I’ll attend mass never again. And that’s fine. There are good memories.

  19. galerimo says:

    The analogy of the seasons of the year, with our living and our ageing process, places winter as the season of for old age.

    I like to think there are also different stages with seasonal likenesses even within each season.

    Perhaps there can be recurring or even simultaneous phases of energy when living one overarching period of life. Summer within our winter years.

    Your friend “Barney” may be someone enjoying the springtime delights of a flourishing sexual partnership in the winter season of his life.

    There may be no need for the same ties as when first entering springtime?

    The treatment of our theme definitely suggests that things become more fluid and open to differences and change with the ageing process.

    Are we an exception to the general population?

    Many do regard the elderly as stuck in their ways, unbending in more senses that just the physical.

    There were only 17 worshippers in St Paul’s Cathedral on Easter Sunday morning in the year 1750. Yet who could have suspected that this tired old Church would very quickly find a regeneration in its old age with the reforms that were about to take place.

    Thomas Carlyle, looking back, described the spiritual and moral quagmire of that time as, “Stomach well alive, soul extinct”

    But the likes of George Whitefield and John Wesley (though not intending to form a separate Church) brought in a huge change for the age weary religious standards that appeared to lie dormant in an never ending winter time.

    I think the changes of broadening and deepening the values of a lifetime are even more remarkable when life seems to be at death’s door.

    Our ageing pontiff recently appeared to roll back the legacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, when he tightened permissions for celebrating the Tridentine, pre-Vatican II order of mass (Traditionis Custodes).

    All the more remarkable in church history as both elderly men continue as contemporaries to live in the shared space of Vatican City.

    We have certainly changed when so much change can come from the old themselves.

  20. David Smith says:

    I was griping about churches being closed because of the pandemic that isn’t by todying bishops who ought to be pensioned off into oblivion. Here’s a quote from an introduction to a “Holy Smoke” podcast partly on that. (These podcasts by Damien Thompson are, I think, one of the best things going on the Internet.)

    // Harry Mount, the editor of The Oldie, is appalled that thanks to the coronavirus regulations, he can’t seek spiritual comfort in any of Britain’s glorious churches…. Harry Mount is an agnostic; why does he feel the need to visit churches? His answer to this question is fascinating and uplifting. //

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