Pursuing holiness is the way to age gracefully
July 9, 2020
BY DENISE BOSSERT
I’m middle-aged. I am tempted by so many things in this phase of life. That surprises me a little. I think about getting a neck lift to rid myself of the saggy jowls that run in my mother’s family. After four births, a tummy tuck would really help the clothes fit consistently from top to bottom. I scan Pinterest and pause to consider the images entitled “What to wear after fifty” and “What women do who always look lovely.”
I never expected to feel this sense of loss over my youth.
Whatsoever is lovely. Youth is so very lovely. I want it back. Not the high school days so much as those mid-to-late 30s. Some may not say that is young, but on this side of 50, it’s young.
My mind wanders to a place in sacred Scripture – Philippians to be exact. I don’t think St. Paul had clothes and plastic surgery in mind when he wrote his famous words: “Whatsoever is true, whatsoever is honorable, whatsoever is just, whatsoever is pure, whatsoever is gracious, whatsoever is lovely . . . think on these things.”
I am taking a summer class on “Guadete Et Exsultate,” the call to holiness. In paragraph nine, Pope Francis says, “Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church.” My heart made a full stop when I read these words. If I want to be attractive – and I do – I need to pursue holiness. Holiness is lovely. Not some passing kind of lovely, but the kind of lovely that gets better with age.
That isn’t to say it is wrong to want to look good and feel good about one’s self, and the Catechism doesn’t reject the possibility of certain medical procedures, but at my age, the best path to being attractive is to be holy. Obsessing over physical appearance is not an attractive trait. Holiness is. There’s another thing about holiness. I honestly think it gets easier to pursue with age. There aren’t many things that fit in the category of “getting easier” anymore.
What is holiness and why does age make it easier? It is becoming like Jesus Christ. I am holy to the degree the Father sees his Son when he looks at me and to the degree the world encounters Jesus Christ when it encounters me.
Detachment is lovely. Being attached to something so strongly you hold on with your fingernails – not lovely. As we age, we learn to detach from one thing and one person after another. That familiar ache becomes an offering of detachment.
Mercy is lovely. We let go of our rigid rejection of people who are different from us. Almost everyone is different from us as we age. We learn to be merciful and realize not everyone will look like I look, sound like I sound or act like I act.
Sacrifice is lovely. We have made many sacrifices throughout life. Aging is rife with aches and pains that can be offered up. We give birth to children and welcome grandchildren who require us to pour out ourselves non-stop.
Love is lovely. It is the highest degree of holiness, but love is so much broader than romantic love, and it certainly isn’t about the self-love that seeks a taut jawline or flat tummy. It’s loving your grandbabies. Loving your co-workers. Loving your spouse. Loving your priest. Loving the neighbor and the stranger. Loving the unlovable.
As we age, we lean into the wisdom gained with years of faith formation and the passing seasons of life. Wisdom is lovely.
Aging isn’t easy. The mirror, the bathroom scale, the way my clothes fit – it seems like everything is changing. It is like puberty all over, except things sometimes feel like they are going haywire rather than a flower reaching full bloom.
Maybe it’s a kind of puberty for eternity. Spiritually, we are reaching full bloom. Let the rest go. Detach.
Denise Bossert is a convert to the Catholic Church. She is an author, speaker, theology teacher and syndicated columnist for diocesan newspapers. She writes from New Melle, Missouri.