Retirement has its blessings, challenges Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

On July 22, 2013, during the flight to World Youth Day, Pope Francis said that “Youth are the future.” He quickly added that “the aged are also essential.”

He stated that he did not want World Youth Day to be a meeting with young people in isolation because when we isolate them, we do them an injustice.

Like us, he said, they belong to a family, a culture, a country, and faith. To know who we are, and where we are going, it’s helpful to know where we came from.

Everyone is welcome

Pope Francis said, “What the world needs now is a culture of inclusion and encounter to make sure that everyone’s place and contribution to society is welcomed.”

As a high school teacher of 22 years and a baseball coach of 42 years, I respect the young.

Pope Francis said, “The young are the future because they are strong, but they are not the only keys to a healthy future for a society, nation, or world. Sometimes we set the elderly aside as if they have nothing to give, but they have the wisdom of life, history of our homelands and families, that we need.”

Seniors have much to offer

I agree, but I think that some seniors can offer even more than Pope Francis mentions. Each senior citizen is different. Some suffer from poor health, need physical assistance, and memory care. On the other hand, other senior citizens are in reasonably good health and mentally alert. These include our 76-year-old pope and many retired priests.

Ronald Regan, Pope John XXIII, and Pablo Casals influenced many when they were in their late 70s.

Pablo Casals, the great cellist, believed that we have a responsibility to work together for peace. At age 84, he promoted peace by performing his oratorio “The Manger” all over the world. He continued this as he grew older. He said that his contribution to peace was small, but he gave all that he could.

On the other hand, an 85-year-old is still 85. But let’s not bury alive those who are still fully alive.

Retired priests

I’ve seen priests in their 80s celebrate Mass with energy and enthusiasm while others struggle and some find offering Mass physically difficult and even impossible.

The following description of retired priests on the Diocese of Madison vocation website illustrates this: “The word retirement brings about the connotation that one’s work has come to an end. That might be a good definition in mainstream society, but when one examines the life of a retired priest, they find that the priest is just as busy, or sometimes, more busy than he was before retirement!”

“In the Diocese of Madison, priests are required to submit a letter to the bishop when they have reached 70 years of age. The bishop may grant them a retirement at that time, or, if they are able and willing, he may ask the priest to remain active until a successor to his parish can be appointed. Dioceses that experience a priest shortage are more likely to keep priests in active ministry until well past the age of 70 years.

“Once in retirement, priests very often continue to serve in their home diocese, and sometimes in other dioceses as well. Many of the retired priests in the Diocese of Madison assist our active clergy with weekday and weekend Mass obligations and other duties as their schedules allow.”

The Bless Our Priests Fund continues to provide for the needs of our retired clergy, to ensure that they are well cared for in thanksgiving for all that they have done and have given to the Church and her people in the Diocese of Madison.

Value of priests

This inspiring description of retired priests shows that like Pope Francis, the Madison Diocese concretely values not only senior citizens, but senior citizens who are retired priests.

A retired priest enjoys retirement’s blessings. He no longer has responsibilities for maintenance, countless meetings, endless ringing phones, multiple appointments, or pressures of running a parish. If he is called upon, there is more quality time to prepare homilies.

Retirement challenges

The challenges of retirement vary with each priest. Challenges that I’ve experienced include downsizing, apartment living, and occasional lack of “help-outs.”

There is also the unexpected, which may include health and other present and future crosses. Sometimes during retirement, it seems I’ve had to make almost as many adjustments as a chiropractor on a busy day, but grace helped me survive.

Fr. Mychal Judge, who died in the tragedy of September 11, 2001, was quoted posthumously, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him what you’re going to do tomorrow!” A teammate on our losing sophomore football team often said “Wait’ll next year!” Next year or tomorrow may never come! At least it didn’t for us.

I’m grateful that God called me to priesthood. The prayers and support of family, friends, and others were channels of grace that helped me to persevere and enjoy retirement.

Thanks for letting me serve God, you, and others.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.