“The Young Priest and the Old Man” – a sad story
Pope Francis came out recently and called for greater care and respect for the elderly as well as for the young. I welcomed this as I’ve felt our society has a huge focus on the youth, and rightly so, but sometimes to the neglect of the elderly. Attitudes towards the elderly can also be very negative.
This struck me recently when I was at mass. The celebrant was a fairly young priest who appeared very devout. An elderly man, probably late 70’s or early 80’s was serving the mass.
This particular day when the priest started the offertory, he offered the bread, then he lifted the cloth to get the water and wine to discover there was none in the jars. He said something to the elderly server who went into the sacristy to get the water and wine. Instead of waiting patiently for the man to return, the young priest stood there, made frustrated faces down at us, the congregation, muttered to himself, twisted his mouth several times in desperation, threw his eyes up to heaven with exasperation and made deep sighs to show that he was very annoyed. He was unable to stand there patiently and wait. Eventually the elderly man came out with the water and wine, very red in the face and clearly embarrassed, and the offertory and Mass proceeded.
Then, to cap it all, at the final blessing the priest, with the elderly man standing beside him at the altar, apologized to us for this incident and put his finger up to his head and twisted it, implying that the elderly man was gaga. The elderly man stood there and watched, red in the face and neck and looked very embarrassed. I felt disgusted with the priest. There was no compassion for the poor man who was doing his best. Instead the priest chose, probably unconsciously, to humiliate him in front of the congregation who did not appear to have any problem with the short delay. I just thought, Young priest, Jesus was standing beside you on that altar – old, forgetful, vulnerable and you didn’t recognize him. You couldn’t treat him with some dignity because you were so caught up with ritual and self.
I would have liked to go up to this priest and tell him what I thought of his attitude but I was too angry. It was mostly elderly people who were at this mass, as it is the elderly who attend church today: the elderly who have remained loyal to the church throughout all its failures. As a not so old person myself, I’m aware that a lot of priests today are old and doddery themselves and we in the pews patiently participate with them, only too appreciative that we have them to say mass for us. As members of the congregation we don’t make faces up at them or imply by other gestures that they should be off the radar. If there were no elderly people in the church for this particular Mass, this young priest would have been left talking to himself.
As I came out of the Church I wondered how representative is this young priest’s attitude towards the elderly. There is evidence in many areas of society today of an absence of tolerance, empathy, compassion, understanding and respect towards our elderly. There also seems to be a lack of awareness among the not so old that they too will be old some day and may also become forgetful. One would have hoped that true agape instead of prejudice would be shown at Mass.