Getting Old


Ask a group of young people what kind of life they have their hearts set on: a life that is ever changing and ever new, one packed with excitement, or a life that is routine, unexciting, repetitive and ordinary?

The prospects of the latter are terrifying to most of them.  

But a life that is ever new and exciting, whatever that might turn out to be, is one that is open to anything but the possibility of love; for a life characterized by the splendour of genuine human love cannot be anything but long, difficult, routine and ordinary.

Consider the typical reaction of a large audience upon hearing of a couple in their midst celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  The applause is often nothing less than moving.  Only a few are naïve enough to believe that those were fifty years of unending exhilaration.  But generally speaking, people recognize the permanent and enduring nature of love, and it is in this that they apprehend its beauty.  Love makes itself available, and not for the short term, but for the long term.  

Love endures, like the parent who willingly gets up every day and does the same things for her children morning after morning, day after day, and year after year; or the parish priest who through celibacy is available to everyone and who every morning celebrates the same Mass, reads from the same scriptures, says the same prayers, utters the same words of consecration, anoints the sick, and prays from the same Divine Office day after day, year after year.  The same enduring commitment is evident in the devoted teacher, nurse, or counsellor, etc.   

Love is indeed extraordinary, but it does not appear as such.  Rather, true love is always buried underneath the ordinary and mundane.  The perfect exemplar of this relationship between the ordinary and the extraordinary is the Eucharist.  The Second Person of the Trinity has chosen to make himself available for the very long term under the unexciting and ordinary appearance of bread and wine.

Love is indeed extraordinary, but it does not appear as such.  Rather, true love is always buried underneath the ordinary and mundane.  The perfect exemplar of this relationship between the ordinary and the extraordinary is the Eucharist. 

The inability to delight in the prospects of genuine love is certainly linked to the cultural rejection of all things old, whether that includes old age, old people, old experiences, old eras, or old and traditional ideas, etc.  Consider the expression “It got old”.  On the lips of a young person, the expression sounds the death knell for the very activity that at one time was new and exciting.  An experience that “got old” wasn’t quite what it was originally expected to be and is soon left behind for someone else to take up, empty and toss aside like a styrofoam cup.

This is a sad state of affairs, for it means that people are living primarily for the emotional, the empirical, the felt aspects of basic human goods rather than the human goods themselves.  True human goods, like genuine friendship, or the knowledge of truth, the appreciation of beauty, integrity, virtue, marriage, etc., are truly possessed only after a long and difficult labour.  Indeed, friendships get old, parenting gets old, marriage gets old, as well as work, but a love that cannot endure the mundane and the ordinary, that cannot bear the thought of growing old, is a love that isn’t worthy of the name.

The irony is that it is only by enduring that love becomes forever new.  For God is Love (1 Jn 4, 8), and in God, what is enduring and what is new coincide.  For God does not age.  Of all existing things, He is the youngest, the newest, for He is not subject to the passing of time.  And yet He is the oldest of beings in that He never had a beginning and will never have an end.  Only a love that is faithful and is able to grow old approaches the divine love: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21, 5).

And this is the lesson to be learned in experiences that get old, namely, that the human heart requires much more than anything this world can offer.  It has been created for love, that is, a love able and willing to grow old into the very glory of eternity.  



Douglas McManaman. "On Getting Old". (March 2007).

Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.


Douglas McManaman is a high school religion teacher with the York Catholic District School Board in Ontario. He is currently teaching at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario and maintains a web site, A Catholic Philosophy and Theology Resource Page, in support of his students. He studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. Mr. McManaman is the past President of the Canadian Chapter of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. He is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 Douglas McManaman

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