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16 Nov 2014 Q&A Comments (15)

Is the power of your prayers lost or diminished if your mind wanders while praying?

Full Question Is the power of your prayers lost or diminished if your mind wanders while praying? Answer The more fully we give attention to pray…

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12 May 2016 Vatican No comments

Abuse scandal motivates me to fight human trafficking, says Cardinal Nichols

The cardinal said the Church had gained a better understanding of the perspective of the victim Cardinal Vincent Nichols has said that the Church’s sex abuse s…

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02 Oct 2014 Vatican Comments (1)

'I can't find the words to say' – Pope Francis hails surviving migrants

Vatican City, Oct 2, 2014 / 04:03 am .- In a private audience between Pope Francis and the survivors and family members of the 368 migrants who perished in a tr…

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28 Apr 2016 Vatican Comments (1)

Vatican watchdog reports sharp rise in suspicious financial activity

Seventeen cases were passed on to Vatican prosecutors to investigate last year The Vatican’s financial watchdog has said it received 544 reports of suspicious …

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24 Dec 2014 Q&A Comments (11)

What is the Angelus?

Full Question What is the Angelus? Answer It's a three-part prayer said thrice daily, usually at six in the morning, noon, and six in the eve…

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13 Aug 2016 Q&A No comments

Why is St. Anthony of Padua invoked for the finding of lost items?

Full Question Why is St. Anthony of Padua invoked for the finding of lost items? Answer One popular story is that a brother friar of St. Anthony st…

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02 Dec 2014 Q&A Comments (11)

How can you take Jesus' words about being "born of water and the Spirit" literally?

Full Question Jesus says in John 3:3–5 that only those "born of water and Spirit" can enter the kingdom. How can you claim this refers to literal water bap…

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13 Oct 2015 News Vatican No comments

How the 'shadow council' is trying to influence the Synod on the Family

When the first week's reports of the 13 small groups at the Synod on the Family were released on Friday, the influence of those who participated in May's “Shado…

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04 Jun 2015 Articles Q&A Comments (23)

‘Brothers and Sisters of Jesus’ Did Mary give birth Other Children

ISSUE: How can the Catholic Church teach that Mary was a virgin after the birth of Christ when there are references in Scripture to the “brothers and sisters” o…

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The key lesson we’ve forgotten in our rush to beat old age

Four years ago, two fellow presenters at the annual meeting of the American Society on Aging bumped into each other in a stairwell and began a conversation that is sending ripples through both gerontology and spirituality circles. One was a psychologist affiliated with Harvard and a former Jesuit. The other was a Jewish scholar with a doctorate from Vanderbilt in the history and critical theory of religion.

What animated our dialogue was the degree of loneliness each of us, at 64 and 65 years old, had experienced as we bucked the pressure to “stay active” as the hallmark of what the academy defined as “successful aging.” Both as professionals in the field and as members of the boomer generation, it was our shared experience that contemplative qualities such as stillness and acceptance were often being mistaken for apathy.

We began speaking with our colleagues and peers in the boomer generation, equally dissatisfied with the prevailing notions regarding what it means to grow old in our youth-obsessed society.

Stereotypes of aging fall into four buckets. The first, the persistent image that is considered by many to be the norm, is that aging is something to be reviled and dreaded. At best, growing old is something best done out of sight and mind, ideally in a gated community and ultimately in some kind of institutional setting.

A more palatable position, the second bucket, acknowledges aging as a time of inevitable decline and detachment, but thinks this is not a bad thing. Known as “disengagement” theory by gerontologists, proponents of this bucket think of aging as a problem to be solved in order to keep elders as serene as possible as they transit the wasteland of old age.

The third bucket, activity theory, swings the pendulum to the extreme. As a result, a new generation of elders has been put on the run. To age “successfully,” one must be kept busy pursuing second or third careers, finding renewed purpose, reinventing ourselves and otherwise proving that one can be productive and engaged to the end. An unfortunate side effect of activity theory is the adulation of youth and the legitimization of denial. Don’t like the idea of aging? Just don’t do it.


But there’s a fourth bucket, the one we have been exploring together since that memorable conversation on the stairwell. That is, aging as a spiritual path. In this vision of aging, growing older takes on added meaning as a life stage with value and purpose of its own. The key is embracing rather than rejecting or denying the shadow side of aging.

Those very qualities that others revile, such as the loss of ego, diminishment of identity, erosion of materiality, turn out to be the building blocks of spiritual practice, as or even more efficient than meditation and chanting. The core value of this approach to aging, taking precedence over either the imperative to stay active or to practice solitude, is the freedom to choose for yourself what spirit is asking of you.

That the re-visioning of growing older as spiritual fulfillment should come out of a pair of boomers should come as no surprise. The baby boomer generation has been and continues to be, as sociologist Wade Clark Roof nicknamed us, “a generation of seekers.”

Over the past four years, as we’ve taken our message public, we have been excited to discover that we are not as alone as we’d thought. Bubbling just under the surface of the boomer ethos is a groundswell of sentiment echoing our own, large and promising enough to be considered the first signs of a movement.

Gravitating toward one another under the general umbrella of “the conscious aging movement,” there’s the Conscious Aging Alliance, consisting of 12 organizations offering retreats, classes, and summits across the country; an International Conference on Spirituality and Aging taking place in Los Angeles in October; a boom in books about spirituality, consciousness and aging; and a daily digest plucking content to share from the contributions to the growing bank of communal knowledge making their way onto the web with thousands of readers.

Equally gratifying is the growing cadre of experts in the adult development, aging and religious fields who relate to the notion of aging as a rich developmental stage in its own right.


A still from the 1937 film “Make Way for Tomorrow.”
A Catholic director’s forgotten masterpiece about marriage, aging, and the modern world
As cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson puts it: “In our era, old age can be a time of growth and spiritual discovery, a time of fulfillment of life, rather than its dreary aftermath.”

This is, indeed, an exciting time to be growing old: a new stage of life that holds the potential of aging not as a problem to be solved, but as the fulfillment of our true spiritual and therefore human potential.

By Carol Orsborn and Robert L. Weber


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