Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
How do we use the gift of age?

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Nov. 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney My good friend and predecessor at The Christophers, Father John Catoir, recently celebrated his 75th birthday and reflected on it in his Catholic News Service column.

Father Catoir, like a lot of us as we get older, thinks about his father at the same age. “He and his contemporaries were all slowly falling apart, but they didn’t seem to notice. They couldn’t believe they were that old, and that’s the way I feel right now.”

I find myself doing the same thing with each birthday, I think about my mom or dad at my age and reflect on how I thought of them as old, but now, at the same age, I realize they weren’t old after all, and that age is a state of mind.

The late famous baseball player Satchel Paige is quoted as asking, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” That’s a very interesting question for each of us as we get older. Too often, the simple fact of getting older causes some people to put the brakes on living.

I had neighbors who, all of their lives, loved to travel. Money wasn’t an issue for them, so they visited exotic places and would regale us with their adventures. However, as they got older, despite being in excellent health, they traveled less and less until they only went to very nearby restaurants and grocery stores.

When asked why they stopped doing what they obviously loved, the husband said, “We’re getting older and figured that we should quit the gallivanting.” Their money didn’t run out, their health was good and there were a lot of places as close as neighboring states to visit, but they decided, only because of their years, to quit. Sadly, they would comment over and over how much they missed the trips.

On the other hand, in the same apartment building, another neighbor, a 70-something widow (“God knows how old I am and he says it’s our secret!”) never stopped traveling, helping neighbors, volunteering at her church and just enjoying life. She would tell anyone who asked that life was a gift from God to be enjoyed.

In his column, Father Catoir says he thinks of himself as “a young person in an aging body.” When I see him, I see a vital, alert, creative human – ageless in many ways – still reaching out to people and bringing joy to their lives through his books and talks. His age isn’t a factor in what he does. He has a mission and every day he is focused on that, to the benefit of many, many people.

Age need not be a reason or, worse, an excuse, for us to slow down or stop. If our health is good then we should be able to continue creative work and an active lifestyle. The experience gained through our years can be a resource for us to share with others (always remembering to “share” and not impose) through volunteering, mentoring, tutoring or a myriad of other activities.

As Father Catoir wrote, “I know I’m in the sunset of my life, but I’m still enjoying the moment.” That’s a great lesson to remember as we get older. Regardless of age there’s so much we can enjoy. God has given us the gift of life and we can thank him every day by using that gift to make this a better world.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “The Best Is Yet to Be – Growing Older with Grace,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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