By Father Joseph Breighner
So, when are we old? Let me tell you a story.
It was half-time during the AFC championship game between the Ravens and the Patriots. I decided to come back to the rectory to watch the second half.
The roads were practically deserted. All of Baltimore was watching the game.
I decided to stop for gas, and I always use cash. I wore my Ravens hat as I walked into the convenience store to pay, and as I walked out to pump my gas, there was a car full of young people. One of the boys yelled out: “Hey, old man, the Ravens are winning!” Then I heard a female voice call out: “We’re kicking butt. The Ravens are kicking butt!”
Ahh, the power of fire-water.
I have to admit that I was blindsided by the voice which called me an “old man.” Thank God it was not the female voice. Men have the power to bruise other men’s egos, but women have the power to crush them. So, I was grateful for that much. The comment did, however, stay with me. It took a bit of the edge off the Ravens’ victory. Imagine how I would have felt if the Ravens had lost.
When are we old? We are old when we think we are old. Second, we are old when others think we are old.
Our minds are creative. If we think something, we will create something. It may not manifest immediately. Just look at the people in your life. Those who are always talking about poor health are always experiencing poor health. Those who are talking about good times keep creating good times. God gave us our minds as creative instruments. We use our minds to make choices and decisions and thus become creators.
I remember as a teenager back in the ’60s sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, and overhearing a conversation between two women.
“Women are as old as they look,” one said. “Men are only old when they stop looking.”
I think she was half right. I disagree with what she said about women. I think women generally keep themselves looking much younger than they are. As another woman said to me: “We put on our powders and paint to make us look like what we ain’t.”
The second half of the woman’s comment, about men, is absolutely right. Men are old only when they stop “looking.” I’ll never forget in the seminary (remember, I spent 12 years in the seminary system – high school, college, then four years of theology at St. Mary’s, Roland Park). As healthy young men, we were all plagued with sexual thoughts. One day one of the seminarians wrestling with his sexuality asked his confessor when all of these temptations would stop. The holy old priest responded in a kindly and gentle voice: “My son, your sexual drives will stop about six months after you are in your grave.” That priest understood men, and was honest enough to admit it.
So we are as old as we think and few of us think we are old. However, we are also as old as others think we are. And that one is tough to accept. No doubt to some young man, I do indeed look like an old man. I’ll be 68 March 1. Some people are vital and alive in their 60s and have another 30 or 40 years of life ahead. Many people never reach that age.
Ultimately our age does not depend on how we look or how others think we look. Our age depends upon God. Bishop Fulton Sheen said something years ago I never forgot: as we age, we grow younger because we grow toward eternal life with God. There are no old men or women in heaven, only people at one with God, people as eternally young and eternally old as God.
Copyright (c) Feb. 7, 2013 CatholicReview.org