"And [the bishops] welcomed Social Security . . . They did not stop to ponder whether public provision in this regard would subvert the moral principle that children are responsible for the well-being of their parents. They did not stop to consider whether this measure would reduce the incentives for procreation and nourish the temptation to think of sexual intercourse as an indoor sport. They did not stop to think."Of course, government assistance and abundant wealth have seemingly obscured the obligation and duty to care for one's relatives. There is a hardly a need to take in an elderly relative when most have the money to pay for assisted living or nursing homes. But, by not living with the elderly or being around them often, people give in to their most selfish tendencies. They who were once proud and strong in their youth have become needy and helpless (if not physically yet, at least emotionally).
Yet there is another, more subtle reason, for inattentiveness to the elderly. Young and middle-aged people do not want to acknowledge their own immortality, their own humanity. The fact, that at some point, they too will be old and needy. There is a very poignant scene in an old movie from the sixties entitled The Trouble with Angels. (The film is a comedy which makes its more serious moments stand out all the more.) In the scene, the students are helping out at a Christmas party at a nursing home when the protagonist, Mary, overhears a tearful elderly woman pour out her sorrows to the Mother Superior. She tells her how her children never visit, and have not asked her to either; she recounts how much she loves them, and how much did for them as children. This heart-wrenching scene forces Mary to confront the Mother Superior, telling her," I hope I die young. . . " Mary vicariously, albeit briefly, experiences this woman's loneliness, understanding what Mother Theresa deeply understood: "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the greatest poverty."
But how much harder is it to also make the time to visit a lonely relative? To pick up the phone and call? To write a note? To have someone over for dinner? To prayerfully consider welcoming a relative to one's home to live?
"For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount" (Luke 6: 32-34)Respect for life means reverence for the dignity each individual person in our world, and in our everyday lives. Let us seek to pay particular attention to those who are do not always receive this most deserved reverence. It is helpful to remember that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.