Sunday, July 28
With parents who are advanced in years, I have become more keenly aware of the challenges that the aging process brings to our bodies and minds. As many of you have heard me say several times, my parents are thankfully in their own home (where they have lived for the past 57 years) and they are lovingly cared for by a great team of holy and heroic people. At the young, tender ages of 90 & 92, my mom and dad need full-time assistance with most of their daily tasks. Physical movement has become quite challenging so getting around the house requires an extra set of hands. And while my mom is still cognitively pretty good, my dad struggles a bit. While I am not really sure what constitutes “Alzheimer’s,” it is very clear that my dad suffers from some form of dementia. Although he may not always be accurate with names, facts, or even where he’s located most days, one of the things my sister and I like to say is that dad is “pleasantly confused.” He’s not angry or bitter and thankfully he is still very verbal. Though he’s lost his physical strength and sharp mental skills, there are two things he has not lost: his outrageous sense of humor and his FAITH. He still laughs (and makes us laugh) and he still prays.
Not only do I stand in awe of his ability to make wisecracks and poke fun at a situation (or one of us!), but I continue to give thanks for his ability to pray the simple prayers of his Catholic faith. When I am with my parents on Monday nights and dinner is served, my 92-year-old father with dementia will never forget to first offer the prayer of thanksgiving. Ask him where he lives or the names of his children and grandchildren and sadly he will fail the test. Ask him to utter the prayer before a meal: “Bless us O Lord, for these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy Bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen!” He prays it like a champ.
And with the exception of the “new” responses that were re-translated about ten years ago in the Roman Rite that still confuses a lot of people (ie “and with your spirit”), my dad knows and prays the responses at Mass in his home parish without a hitch. He may not be able to stand or sit at the appropriate times, but he can follow along and participate in the celebration of the Mass.
It’s fascinating that even though our bodies break down and our minds are not as sharp, there’s still something very powerful about the prayers of our Tradition and what has been handed down to us from our ancestors. The first part of Luke’s Gospel today talks about Jesus teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer (or what we call the “Our Father.”) I always say to the families at the Baptism rituals I perform that I can’t remember how I actually learned the Our Father. I don’t think many of us can. We just know it. Yet I always acknowledge the fact that I heard my parents praying the Our Father in our home. It was prayed in my church on Sundays and in my Catholic schools all the way through college. We just know the Our Father because people have prayed it in our midst over and over and over again. I always tell the people at the Baptism ceremony that one family in particular, years ago, mentioned to me that they lean over the crib and pray the Our Father into the ear and soul of their child as the last act of the day.
While the culture is always shifting and indeed the life and reality of the church is changing a great deal (and it will continue to do so), I do hope that one constant we hold on to is our gift of common prayer. No matter how old we get or how forgetful our minds cause us to be, I sure hope that the ability to pray, especially the Lord’s Prayer, will keep us sustained and connected to Eternal Life.
Have a great week,
Father Tom Hurley