May 2024

The ageing journey offers opportunities for our spiritual growth

As I am in the last quarter of my lifecycle, I participated recently in a couple of workshops that explored the Spirituality of Ageing, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of diverse spiritualities. Individuals and communities have sought a life of prayer and relationship with God. Through an ever-richer living out of Gospel values, they have come to a deeper engagement with God and with others in community.

More recent history has placed a strong emphasis on Sacramentality as the preeminent expression of faith within the Catholic Church. Vatican II called the Eucharist “the source and summit of Catholic life”. Participation in the Sunday Eucharist has been emphasised as the central and at times only source of spiritual enrichment for many of the faithful.  

However, the 2016 census indicated that only 11.6% of Catholics attend a weekly Eucharist. So, an increasing number of Catholics no longer participate in a parish Sunday Mass. Many Catholics are yearning for a more personal and focused spirituality to engage with God. They are seeking a spirituality which enriches their stage and experience of life. They desire a participation and engagement that nourishes their faith. They want to depth their personal relationship with the divine and with their world.

Sister Kerin Caldwell SGS. Image: Sisters of the Good Samaritan.

As I am in the last quarter of my lifecycle, I participated recently in a couple of workshops exploring the Spirituality of Ageing; one in Canberra and one in Wagga Wagga. These workshops, organised by the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn Catholic Women’s Taskforce and the Spirit Weavers of Wagga Wagga were conducted by Good Samaritan Sister Kerin Caldwell.

Kerin provided a safe place for participants to share their experiences, their hopes and their challenges in negotiating the latter part of life. They did so with an openness, a sense of humour as well as a seriousness that enabled deep sharing and connectedness within the gathering.

Kerin, who has undertaken postgraduate study in this area, shared her own experience and acquired knowledge. She had the capacity to bring into focus the physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual realities experienced in the latter years of life in such a way that connected deeply with participants.

She acknowledged the physical diminishment that can come with ageing, the possible memory loss for some, sometimes the loss of purpose and status which paid work had offered. However, she also identified the opportunity for spiritual growth on the continuum that is the ageing journey from birth to death.

Maureen Hilton and Mary Boyle participated in the workshop. Image: Andrea Dean.

One participant commented to me that she felt the ‘official’ church now puts all its emphasis on youth, schools, property and administration, and very little into adult education and spiritual formation for this lifelong journey. She posed the question: has the Church lost its way and purpose, namely that of participation and communion with one another and with God?  She challenged some of my thinking!

I found it interesting that women and men were willing to dedicate a whole Saturday to this exploration, and were prepared to travel some distances, e.g. to Wagga Wagga from Leeton, Narrandera and Albury. The yearning for fullness of life was apparent in their individual and collective journeys.

Under the title Life is for Living, Kerin presented three key themes: Living or Not Living, Life is a …? and Leisure Life’s Enrichment. Using movies, stories, cartoons and Scripture, she enabled those participating to reflect, share and examine their own experiences of life in these latter years. We noted the choices that are ours to either grow in contentment rather than irritability, acceptance rather than denial, and outreach rather than alienation.

Kintsugi bowl. Image: Facebook.

She summed up some of her exploration in the words of Japanese potter, Makoto Fujimura about Kintsugi pottery: “Kintsugi does not mean ‘fix’ or repair a broken vessel; rather the technique makes the broken pottery even more beautiful than the original. I want to restore that beauty that has been broken. Christ came not to ‘fix’ us, not to just restore but to make a new creation.”

Kerin reminded us of Jeremiah’s story of the potter’s house.

“I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was working at the wheel. But the vessel he was making came out wrong, as may happen with clay when the potter is at work.  So, he began again and shaped it into another vessel, as he thought fit.

“The word of Yahweh came to me: ‘Can I not do to you as the potter does? Yes, like clay in the potter’s hand so you are in mine.’” (Jeremiah 18:3-7)

Sister Kerin Caldwell SGS chats to Patricia Moroney. Image: Andrea Dean.

In her third session, Kerin highlighted the developmental challenges of the older years. She asked us: How can I find ways to rest the body, stimulate the mind and enrich and nourish my soul? As the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) advised us about leisure: “May the leisure hours be properly used for relaxation of spirit and strengthening of mental and bodily health.” (GS, #61)

Leisure can be a condition of the soul that takes us into a place of peace, ‘at-homeness’ with self, God and others. And she reminded us of Mark’s Gospel: “When the apostles returned to tell Jesus all they had done and taught that day he said: ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’” (Mark 6:30-32)

For me, the two days were enriching about what communion, participation and mission mean for every stage in the journey of a Christian life, but especially in those latter years of life. I had a sense we all returned home better equipped and more purposeful at this time of our unique journeys of faith and life.

Participants came from near and far to attend the workshop. Image: Elizabeth Madden.


Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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