The tenderness of the elderly shows us the tenderness of God. Pope Francis stressed this during his Wednesday General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square on 8 June, as he continued his series of catecheses “on the meaning and value of old age in the light of God’s Word.” He reflected this week on the New Testament figure of Nicodemus.

The Pope said he wished to emphasize “the tenderness of the elderly” and grandparents, highlighting how God is equally tender with us.

“Watch how a grandfather or a grandmother look at their grandchildren, how they embrace their grandchildren – that tenderness, free of any human distress, that has conquered the trials of life and is able to give love freely, the loving nearness of one person to others.”

This tenderness, he said, opens the door toward understanding God’s tenderness.

“This is what God is like, He knows how to embrace. And old age helps us understand this aspect of God who is tenderness.”

Born anew, not living forever

The Pope considered the words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew” (Jn 3:3) by water and the Holy Spirit.

This spiritual rebirth, the Pope suggested, does not negate or detract from the value of our earthly existence, but “points it towards its ultimate fulfilment in the eternal life and joy of heaven.”

Our age, with its frantic pursuit of the myth of eternal youth, the Holy Father underscored, needs to relearn this truth and to see every age of life as preparation for the eternal happiness for which we were created.

Jesus had told Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”

Witness to God’s presence in our midst

The elderly, through their faith, wisdom and experience, can bear convincing witness to the presence of God’s kingdom in our midst and the authentic meaning of our earthly existence as a foretaste of that true “eternal youth” which awaits us in the new creation inaugurated by Christ and his Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father highlighted the beauty of old age.

“Old age moves ahead toward its destination, towards God’s heaven,” he said.

“Old age, therefore, is a special time of separating the future from the illusion of a biological and robotic survival, especially because it opens us to the tenderness of God’s creative and generative womb.”

Pope Francis concluded by praying, “May the Spirit grant us the re-opening of this spiritual – and cultural – mission of old age that reconciles us with the birth from above.”

“When we think of old age like this, we can say – why has this throw-away culture decided to throw out the elderly, considering them useless? The elderly are the messengers of the future, the elderly are the messengers of tenderness, the elderly are the messengers of the wisdom of lived experience. Let us move forward and watch the elderly.”