I am writing as we begin the next four weeks of Advent preparing for the gift of God’s son to the world, to announce that our our period of waiting for a new worker for Growing Old Grace-fully is over!
I am very pleased with funding support from the Diocese, the Day for Life fund of the Bishop’s Conference and Holy Child Sisters, we have engaged a freelance worker to support our work.
Welcome to Greg Mulholland who will be working with us part-time for the next year.
Greg is an experienced communications professional and will build on the excellent work of our previous freelance workers, in taking forward the work of Growing Old Grace-fully and delivering our vision and mission.
We have a clear brief to organise Zoom meetings to support parishes to be more Later Life friendly, as well as working with two parishes more intensely to support them in their work with older people. This is of course on top of our communications to our subscribers and supporters.
Greg says, “I’m delighted to be working with Growing Old Grace-fully, to deliver its important vision and mission in our Diocese and I look forward to working with the Board, volunteers and parishes to help older people across the Catholic Diocese of Leeds experience spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing in positive and inclusive parish communities”.
This December mailing includes an Advent reflection from a member of our board of trustees, Pippa Bonner and some suggestions for prayers which you may want to use yourself or share with other parishioners
With blessings for Advent,
Carol Burns and trustees of Growing Old Gracefully
When I was a child I was on the verge of tears when I sang the words of the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” written by Christina G Rossetti (1830-1864.) (1)
“In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;”
It sounded bleak, hard and cold. I lived in Scotland where I could understand that ”snow had fallen, snow on snow”…. I realised that a Bethlehem birth might be cold and hard, but perhaps little snow. I knew the point was that the Son of God was born in very humble, challenging, drafty circumstances away from family and community. As I grew older, I appreciated more the challenge that Mary and Joseph faced travelling for some uncomfortable days in late pregnancy, on the orders of an occupying regime to register their names. It may be on that journey Mary did not have the understanding and support of some of her extended family. They found it difficult to find accommodation as many others had also travelled to register. The unexpected, miraculous pregnancy perhaps was not accepted by some in the couple’s families. Joseph likely saved Mary’s life from stoning, a punishment for supposed infidelity and pregnancy outside of a betrothal or marriage. Her reputation, and his, may have taken longer to be restored.
We know too that they became refugees when Jesus was still very young. It must have been traumatic in a regional massacre to hide their child and make a perilous journey to Egypt.
As I write, Palestinian refugees are making a treacherous journey amidst bombs and gunfire: women, some pregnant, men, many older people, children, newborn babies are riding on carts and are walking to South Gaza adjoining the Egyptian border. Many Jews support the Palestinians but the fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas has brought death, injury, homelessness and fear. The modern refugees are taking a dangerous journey. Did Mary and Joseph find food, water and shelter along the way? Did they have to hide? How long did they have to stay before travelling back to their homeland to Nazareth? Were they welcomed or not when they got to Egypt? Many modern-day refugees encounter danger, hostility, rejection, and a great sense of trauma and loss about what they have left behind.
The amazing belief we have in preparing for Advent is the Incarnation, the birth of the Messiah, the great hope enfleshed…
Advent is a time of preparation and above all a time of hope! As an older woman, every year I appreciate more that Advent is a time of hope. Amidst war in the Middle East and Ukraine and around the world the Saviour, a Sign of Hope and Peace is born.
Christina Rossetti’s poem finishes:
” What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what can I give him – give my heart.”
As an older woman this last verse still moves me. Whatever our situation: enough money to pay our bills or not; working or retired; living with others or alone; bereaved; with plans for a way forward or not; security, directly affected by war, trauma, grief or poverty or watching it on T.V., we all have ups and downs. During Advent we bring to God ourselves, our spiritual gifts, our time, our life experience… and our hearts. Christmas brings hope. There are hymns, prayers, online Advent Resources from the Jesuits, Franciscans and others, parish and diocesan events and numerous ways in which we can prepare for Christ’s birth, whether individually or communally.
Christ brings Challenge AND Hope.
May you have a Blessed Advent and a Happy, Blessed Christmas!
Pippa Bonner, December 2023
(1) In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti.
(Published by many including Decani Music, Suffolk 1999. No copyright holder given. Laudate Hymnal number 144.)
This free online event involving speakers, groups and lunch-time interactive sessions, is now open for booking. Following one of COA’s ongoing issues of interest, ‘cherished, not forgotten’, the focus this year is on exclusion and some particular ways in which older people can be affected.
The morning sessions will be given over to an in-depth look at the Archbishops’ Report ‘Care and Support Reimagined’. Will Freemont-Brown from Lambeth Palace will lead us through the key ideas and how the Report is being used. What do we think and what can we contribute as Christians and Church members? There will be opportunity to comment and discuss.
The lunch-time interactive session will have a musical theme. Inês Delgado will lead a short workshop on music meditation, exploring activities that mindfully inspire the creative mind. This element of the conference worked very well last year when we experienced storytelling so grab your lunch and join in!
The afternoon sessions will look at two aspects of ‘older people on the margins’. Nicola Cadet of Sheffield Hallam University will share her research on behalf of HM Inspectorate for Probation that highlights the experience and life-outcomes for older people who find themselves involved with the justice system and on probation. COA has had a longstanding interest in older prisoners and are pleased to offer a session on this less well-known area of concern.
The second afternoon session will address a more established source of exclusion – social isolation and loneliness in later life. Emily Kenwood will share the work of ‘Time to Talk Befriending’. As in previous years, the conference will end with an overall reflection and a chance to discuss prospects and ideas for the future.
As we continue to celebrate the successful launch of the transformative book “Journeying Together” by Deacon Joseph Cortis and Pia Matthews, we’d like to highlight a special piece that was shared during the launch event in June – “A Psalm for Those Journeying Together with Dementia”. Penned with profound empathy and insight, this poem delicately captures the profound experiences of caregivers navigating the path of dementia. It is a poetic journey of love, resilience, and unwavering strength. Intricately tied to the narratives explored in “Journeying Together”, this Psalm elevates the book’s essential message of shared struggle and enduring spirit. Witness its heartfelt recitation in our attached video link, or delve into the text for a quiet, personal reflection below.
Lord, you have searched for me and know me as I am. If I feel lost, you can find me, still. You understand the thoughts of my heart even when words escape from me. You perceive the way I have in mind when my friends cannot see the road ahead. You pick up the fragments of my desires, provide loving hands to weave these threads into garments to protect me. Even if I forget to praise you, your faithfulness feeds me; you remember my history, and share all my discoveries.
Lord, you search with us, and know how we long to make smooth the path for our companions, sweeping away the obstacles that trip them up. When we are bruised and feel broken, you soothe us with your wounded hands; when our heads ache and spin, you lift from them your crown of thorns. When loneliness closes us in, your presence opens new doors. When we stumble, you are there to steady our steps. The knowledge of you shines on our high spirits, and brightens our lowest moments.
Lord, you will always know your sheep and search for them, the ram, the yearling, the ewe, and lead us to the fold, safe from the wolves of the world. You will place your laughter in our mouths, even as our eyes shed your tears. You nourish us at your table, and refresh our thirsty souls with grace. We are yoked with you in a trinity of care – needed, given, received. All the day long, you walk with us, and when the night closes in, and darkness falls there you are, beside us, our place of rest.
Hannah Stone, poet-theologian to Leeds Church Institute , June 2023
Pentecost is a remarkable occasion that holds profound meaning for believers around the world. It encompasses a multitude of themes – a time of renewal, new beginnings, and the courage bestowed upon the first Christian community. In the book of Acts, we witness how Pentecost invigorated the apostles, inspiring them to continue the important work of Jesus.
Described vividly in Acts, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of flames of fire and a powerful wind. To better grasp the significance of this divine event, individuals living with dementia were asked to describe the characteristics of wind and fire. Their responses were remarkably insightful:
Uncontrollable. Powerful. Sometimes strong, sometimes gentle. Necessary for life. Always moving things. Always changing.
These descriptions strikingly align with the essence of the Holy Spirit, revealing its dynamic and transformative nature.
However, this year, my thoughts were drawn to the words of Peter as he addressed the crowds, referencing the words of the Prophet Joel (Acts 2:17):
“In the last days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.”
These prophetic words echo the profound truth that the outpouring of God’s Spirit during Pentecost is a resounding declaration that God does not abandon individuals in their old age or forsake them when they are frail and weak. On the contrary, God’s Spirit is poured out on all, irrespective of age or station in life.
This revelation presents a compelling challenge to all of us. It reminds us that we are one community, where young and old can collaborate and contribute in their unique ways. Each generation possesses invaluable insights and gifts that, when shared, foster unity, understanding, and progress.
Let us embrace the teachings of Pentecost, recognising that we are all interconnected in God’s divine plan. As we come together, drawing from the wisdom of the older generation and the vision of the young, we can forge a path towards renewal, revitalisation, and a future brimming with hope.
May Pentecost serve as a constant reminder that we are bound together by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Together, we can create a harmonious symphony, where every voice is heard, valued, and celebrated, leading us towards a world where love, compassion, and understanding prevail.
Carol Burns Chair, Growing Old Grace-fully
A Prayer at Pentecost
Come Holy Spirit, enter our silences.
Come Holy Spirit, into the depths of our longing.
Come Holy Spirit, our friend and our lover.
Come Holy Spirit, unmask our pretending.
Come Holy Spirit, sustain our weakness.
Come Holy Spirit, redeem our creation.
Enter our trusting, enter our fearing, enter our letting go, enter our holding back.
Flood our barren spaces, make fertile our deserts within. Break us and heal us, liberator of our desires .
Come Holy Spirit. Embrace us and free us.
(Neil Thew 1990 from “Bread of Tomorrow”, edited by Janet Morley)
Journeying Together is a book co-written by Deacon Joseph Cortis, who is a trustee of Growing Old Grace-fully and Pia Matthews from St Mary’s University, that offers practical information and hints on how to accompany someone with dementia. This book is an indispensable resource for those caring for a loved one with dementia, offering insightful and valuable guidance based on the authors and contributors’ personal experiences.
Journeying Together provides an important resource for those who may feel overwhelmed or uncertain about how to support their loved ones.
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn how to provide effective and compassionate care for those living with dementia, and it offers a vital message of solidarity and support for all those on this challenging journey.
This book serves also as a resource for professional carers, clergy, religious and social action groups such as SVP conferences, parish councils, lay faithful fulfilling a ministry in their parish.
The book is available for purchase at Redemptorist Publications for £11.95, and can also be purchased from St Paul’s bookshop at Hinsley Hall. To purchase your copy online: Click here.
God of hope, we cling to you, for your renew the face of the earth.
Through the gift of your Son, our Lord Jesus, we follow you on the path of dawn.
Enlightened by your love and wisdom, help us to lead each other and all creatures back to your open arms. Amen.
With expectant waiting we anticipate your coming. Come close to us, Lord, come very close.
Come, Alpha and Omega, who is from before the ages. Come, Son of Joseph and Son of Mary, who went down to Nazareth to be obedient to them.
Come, Morning Star, who named the stars. Come, carpenter from Nazareth, who knows the smell of planed wood.
Come, Beloved Son of God, who knows the heart of God. Come, Son of Man, who knows the hearts of God’s people.
Come, Lord of Life and Prince of Peace. Come, Dayspring and Rising Sun. Come, Wonderful Counsellor. Come Emmanuel, God with us; God very close to us.
Litany of Advent litany: Lord, we look to you of Nazareth
As we look to you for judgement, hold out your hand of compassion that we may be chastened by your show of mercy and reach out to others in reconciliation.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As we contemplate our end, make us mindful of your promise of a new beginning that we may share your promise of life and bring hope to those who sit in darkness.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As we remember Elizabeth in her barrenness, fill us with longing for the birth of a new creation that we too may be surprised with joy and labour with those who seek to make all things new.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As John leapt in his mother’s womb, help us so to recognise Christ in friend and stranger that we may respond in love and learn to serve our neighbour with generosity not judgement.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As Mary and Elizabeth sought each other, grant us the wisdom to recognise our needs that we too may seek each other in solidarity and offer strength to the powerless.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As Mary proclaimed the salvation of the Lord, give us courage to stand alongside the downtrodden that we may sing of their hopes and join hands to realise their dreams.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope and whom we long to see.
Litany of Mary of Nazareth
Glory to you, God of our Creator … Breath into us new life, new meaning. Glory to you, God our Savior … Lead us in the way of peace and justice. Glory to you, God, healing Spirit … Transform us to empower others.
Mary, wellspring of peace ………. Be our guide, Model of strength Model of gentleness Model of trust Model of courage Model of patience Model of risk Model of openness Model of perseverance
Mother of the liberator ………. Pray for us. Mother of the homeless Mother of the dying Mother of the nonviolent Widowed mother Unwed mother Mother of political prisoner Mother of the condemned Mother of an executed criminal
Oppressed woman ………. Lead us to life. Liberator of the oppressed Marginalized woman Comforter of the afflicted Cause of our joy Sign of contradiction Breaker of bondage Political refugee Seeker of sanctuary First disciple Sharer in Christ’s ministry Participant in Christ’s passion Seeker of God’s will Witness to Christ’s resurrection
Woman of mercy ………. Empower us. Woman of faith Woman of contemplation Woman of vision Woman of wisdom and understanding Woman of grace and truth Woman, pregnant with hope Woman, centered in God
Mary, Queen of Peace, we entrust our lives to you. Shelter us from war, hatred and oppression. Teach us to live in peace, to educate ourselves for peace. Inspire us to act justly, to revere all God has made. Root peace firmly in our hearts and in our world. Amen.
From: The Fire of Peace: A Prayer Book Compiled and edited by Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB Pax Christi USA
Reading: God’s Call to Mary by Joan Chittister
To entitle the call of God to Mary the ‘annunciation’ is, at best, misleading. Somehow or another,‘annunciation’ just doesn’t say it. ‘Cataclysm’, perhaps. ‘Prophecy,’ maybe. But ‘Annunciation. Never. This, after all was no routine summons. This was an earth shattering, life-changing, revolutionary call. This was what happens when life is completely turned around, when the house burns down or the job disappears, or the stock market crashes. This was the kind of moment that called for that same kind of strength and faith and character. And Mary, the woman, though ‘deeply disturbed’ had more than enough of it all. She felt the truth of who she was within her. More than that, she felt the truth of who God is. Mary knew that God’s favour was indeed with her and that was enough to lead her on. It doesn’t hurt to remember, at times in which extraordinary witness, extraordinary faith, extraordinary commitment are required of us, that God’s favour is there with us too, to sustain the stress of bringing justice and love to birth and turning the world around – when neither the neighbourhood nor the nation want that to happen.
This year the season of Advent is as long as it possibly can be with the first Sunday of Advent starting on November 27th. Now in the second week of Advent, we continue to prepare for the appearance of Jesus as a tiny baby born in very challenging circumstances. His mother gave birth away from her home town, far from her home and familiar surroundings. Some of her family may have still felt ambivalent about the nature of Mary’s pregnancy. Has Joseph begun to understand it? The Messiah is born in very humble circumstances, soon to become a Refugee.
This year we remember all those born and living in challenging circumstances, born in areas of conflict, like the Holy Land today. This year war is raging in Ukraine, and conflicts around the world are shown daily on our televisions. We remember all who are refugees who are escaping conflict and persecution.
We pray that the hope and joy of Christmas will also be experienced in these difficult times.
Advent is a time of acknowledging paradox. A time of hope and celebration amidst personal and world difficulty, bereavement, illness and loss.
At Growing Old Grace-fully we celebrate the role, gifts and experience of older people. Joseph is traditionally described as an older man. Mary and Jesus must have benefited from his life experience. The Shepherds and Magi may have been mixed age groups: older Shepherds guiding and overseeing the younger ones. It is likely the Magi had a lifetime of study and experience. We know that the Holy Family travelled to Jerusalem to present Jesus in the Temple. They were met by the elderly Simeon and Anna who had been awaiting the Messiah. Let us celebrate them all!
We remember all older people, locally and around the world. Some who are among family and friends, and others who are alone, those fearing food and heating prices, and all who are juggling the blessings and difficulties of older age. Many of us are dealing with the push and pull of life: happy and sad memories of experience and life itself. And if we believe we no longer have a place or sense of agency in life these words of Pope Francis might be encouraging:
“Of one thing I am certain – every human being reveals something of God …a spark of divine light shines from each one of us…every human being has been taken up into the heart of God, conferring on them an infinite divinity.”
The coming of Christ is the joyful, welcoming of the Messiah. And we also know that the incarnate Christ dies and is resurrected for us. My eight year old granddaughter has expressed this paradox (unprompted by me), in her home made Christmas card to me this year. Inside a cheery, snowy, animal card she has drawn a crucified Christ with the heading ” Jesus dies for our sins. ” Behind the cross is Father Christmas and his reindeer and sleigh, and happy Christmas wishes and love from her to me. She has captured the joy and sadness we experience during this season of the Church year.
However, Advent culminates with Christmas. We live with the hope and happiness of Christmas. May you all feel the hope and blessings of Christmas!
Here is part of Joyce Rupp’s “A Christmas Blessing.”
May you give and receive love generously. May this love echo in your heart like the joy of church bells on a clear December day….
May the hope of this sacred season settle in your soul. May it be a foundation of courage for you when times of distress occupy your inner land….
May you daily open the gift of your life and be grateful for the hidden treasures it contains…
May you keep your eye on the Star within you and trust this Luminescent Presence to guide and direct you each day….
May you go often to the Bethlehem of your heart and visit the One who offers you peace. May you bring this peace into our world.”
May you all feel the hope and happiness of Christmas and a blessed New Year!
‘As we get older we can gradually experience a series of ‘losses’ – an increase in health issues, a decrease in independence, some loss of ability to do what we used to do, loss of friends, possibly moving out of your home, loss of memory and so on.
How do we hold onto and deepen our true identity, allow loss to be part of our jigsaw, find new purposes and resilience in the context of this part of our spiritual and practical journey?‘
This event aims to give an opportunity to listen to the experiences of others, reflect on what can help, share in discussion groups and end with a reflection and prayer.
As it is an online event, you can join from the comfort of your own home. We look forward to seeing you there!