Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me. – Psalm 71:9
Fr. Greg Green, CSC, the rector of my dorm at Notre Dame and the priest who baptized all of my children, died this week. He was 85. Fr. Green had been a Holy Cross priest for 58 years. My family had a special relationship with him, and we treated him like part of our own family. He celebrated important events with us, and he enjoyed dinner at our home on many occasions. He meant a lot, not just to us, but to so many people.
Fr. Green held many roles at Notre Dame over the years, including one as staff chaplain. When he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination, he wrote: “I am not their pastor, but I am with them in any need—happy occasions (picnics, award banquets, Christmas gatherings, recognition dinners) and at times of pain and grief (hospitalizations, wakes and funerals—not only of employees and retirees, but also of spouses, children, parents, grandparents and in-laws). It is a very rewarding ministry. All of these events are significant moments and I’m privileged to be with them.”
He knew and understood the meaning of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. He knew and showed Christ’s love. His gentle demeanor endeared him to all who knew him. He will truly be missed.
His passing so close to Christmas has caused me to reflect on the elderly who are still with us but who are feeling intense loneliness right now. Christmas is a difficult time of year for a lot of people during a regular year. But this is not a regular year.
That is why we must heed the words of Fr. Green and do what he did—be with people in need.
Christ’s command to visit the sick and visit those in prison are two of the Corporal Works of Mercy. And those two works of mercy are desperately needed right now.
While it’s important to understand and care for people isolated because of literal sickness and imprisonment, we must also expand how we interpret these descriptions—especially now. We must see those in isolation as prisoners—prisoners to the virus and prisoners in their own homes.
Christmas will be here in a week, and the week leading up to that special day is always hectic. It can be so hectic that we forget to check in on those we care about or on our neighbors.
But remember that this is the time of year when many people feel extremely sad and lonely.
Families may forego trips this year because travel is hard, because of restrictions, or because they don’t want to risk infecting anyone. But the elderly still need you!
Your elderly parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or neighbors need you to be there. They need your calls. They need your voices. They need to see your faces. They need special gifts. They need to know that they matter to you.
A handful of years ago, Pope Francis said a Mass specifically for grandparents and the elderly. During his homily, he said:
Old age, in particular, is a time of grace, in which the Lord will renew his call: calls us to preserve and transmit the faith, calls us to pray, especially to intercede; calls us to be close to those who maybe in need. . . . But there is also the reality of the abandonment of the elderly: how many times we discard older people with attitudes that are akin to a hidden form of euthanasia! The culture of discarding human beings hurts our world. We discard children, young people and older people under the pretense of maintaining a “balanced” economic system, the center of which is no longer the human person, but money. We are all called to counter this culture of poisonous waste! . . . We Christians, together with all people of good will, are called to patiently build a more diverse, more welcoming, more humane, more inclusive society, that does not need to discard the weak in body and mind. On the contrary we need a society which measures its success on how the weak are cared for.
One of people’s greatest fears in life is to be forgotten. It is our responsibility to make people feel loved, to shine the light of Christ into their lives, and to help them understand that we value them.
As Christ is always there for us, and as Fr. Green was always there for the people in his life, so must we be there for others.