Western culture is not one that any longer values age. In the east the elders are valued as repositories of wisdom and history, and significant respect is shown them. In the west you might still find a person willing, say, to give up a seat for an elder on a bus, but otherwise the elderly are seen more as a nuisance or a burden than anything else. Most businesses will not want a worker to stay beyond retirement age, and the older you get the harder it is to find a new job. Let’s not be fooled by the current trend to raise the retirement age; that is for purely economic reasons, as the state wants to reduce its pensions burden. No longer is it common for widowed parents or grandparents to live with the families of their children; homes are the preferred option. To be sure, sometimes this is a mercy for all involved. As people live longer so the complications of ageing become far more prevalent, and coping with someone suffering acute Alzheimer’s or significant loss of physical function can be beyond the capabilities of most people. Nevertheless, our culture clearly values youth above age.
So it is refreshing to see this trend being opposed in the Church. A fine example, as it happens, can be found at my old school, St Aloysius’ College, Milson’s Point in Sydney. Last weekend Tom Nicol (himself an old boy, and a young one at that) at Sky News Australia profiled a Jesuit priest on the staff there, Fr Geoffrey Schneider SJ (no doubt to his partial discomfiture – he is not one to seek the limelight). Fr Schneider is about 5 months short of his 100th birthday, and he is still at work. He is teacher and chaplain in the College’s Junior School, and I suspect he must be a contender for the oldest teacher still at work in the world, and maybe even oldest priest as well. He is not some sort of neurotic workaholic. Rather he is a man who has responded wholeheartedly to the Lord’s call, and remains faithful to it even as age wearies his body. He is a fine Jesuit, a fine priest and and a fine Christian. He has influenced generations of young men at my old school, and other schools as well (relatively briefly in contrast to the decades he has been at St Aloysius’). Even at 99.5 years of age, he brings to a new generation of boys the faith, the sacraments and an example of selfless service, embodying the touchstone goal of the Australian Jesuit schools – to produce men for others.
When the Day of the Lord comes may God reward Fr Schneider one hundredfold and more. Until then, ad multos annos!
If the video does not appear below just click the link at right- Fr Geoffrey Schneider SJ on Sky News Australia