Thursday, November 16, 2023

New Book from Brendan Hoban: ‘Holding Out for a Hero: The Long Wait for Pope Francis’

Holding Out For A Hero | Knock Shrine

The recent Positive Ageing Week is a timely reminder for us – Oldies, Seniors, Elders, OAPs, Old fogies or whatever we call ourselves now – To Look on the Bright Side of Life, as the song has it.

There are particular moments that define the onset of old age. You keep losing your glasses. You climb the stairs and you realise (for the first time) why the word ‘climb’ is so appropriate. 

Or you find yourself in another room in the house and you stand there wondering why you’re there. You are prevailed upon to attend a late night event and you find yourself sagging the following day.Friends of your own vintage whom you haven’t met for a while seem to have aged noticeably.

One day you realise that you’ve lived for at least three times the probable length of the rest of your life. You’re rushing for an appointment and you find your legs have developed a mind of their own. You seem to be putting on weight though you’ve never eaten less. Your teeth (as well as the rest of you) all seem to be less than they were as visits to the doctor, the dentist, the  chiropodist, the audiologist (and whatever you’re having yourself) seem to come around at increasingly rapid intervals.

And Time, that unreliable friend, with each passing year, if not month and week, seems to diminish with ever-increasing frequency, as you remember events of the past and estimate when they happened by multiplying the time-span by at least two. And you remind yourself yet again to stop computing the years.

Such are the run-of-the-mill signposts that the wheels of time are spinning on and on and on. 

Then there are the other significant markers: the death of loved ones, birthdays that you can’t believe have somehow arrived or crept up through the mists of time and that pass uncelebrated and later unnoticed by others and later again unnoticed by ourselves. 

Reunions of varied ilk where medical histories are exchanged, where classmates divide into predictable categories: those who have passed away; those who ‘aren’t well’; those ‘looking well shook’; those with underlying health conditions; and others who (for unexplained reasons) just haven’t turned up. 

The remnants of the Maynooth class of 1966, as poet Pádraig Daly once described our generation, in The Last Dreamers, are ‘waving our tattered flags after the war / Helping the wounded across the desert’.

The unsatisfying antidote to the downhill trajectory of the graph is to embrace the wisdom of the well-known bouncy ditty, Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think, most recently recorded by Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians:

You work and work for years and years, you’re always on the go

You never take a minute off, too busy makin’ dough

Someday, you’ll say, you’ll have your fun, when you’re a millionaire

Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rockin’ chair.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink

The years go by, as quickly as a wink

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

Even Jesus reminds us (in the gospels) that it’s later than we think. That’s the message in the parable of the fig tree – ‘as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near’ (Matthew: 24). The blossoming fig tree is a sure sign to the apostles of the changing seasons, because when summer comes, winter is never far behind.

It’s not, of course, that God is trying to put the skids under us or that he’s acting the part of the Great Accountant in the sky. What he’s trying to do is to remind us that, regardless of the season, we need to be interested even enthusiastic about the possibilities still on offer and not to waste the many opportunities available in every season of our lives.

As the year winds down and winter closes in, it’s natural for us, older citizens to reflect on the growing shortness of our lives, to accept what is a natural time for stock-taking, to realise that ‘it is later than we sometimes think’.

No matter what we’ve accomplished in the (let’s face it) long lives we’ve been blessed with, there is still so much we can do – indeed that we need to do. Not that this is about the kind of nervous frenzy we sometimes get ourselves into as we inflict what’s called ‘a bucket list’ of life’s attainments on ourselves, setting targets about what we need to do to prove something to ourselves or to others about how young we still are.

Old age, yes old age, is not about proving anything to anyone, least of all ourselves. It’s the opposite. It’s about savouring the luxury of not having to prove anything to anyone anymore. It’s about not wanting to climb Croagh Patrick when, instead of opting against the possibility of a heart attack, we can choose to have a lazy stroll along a beach on a warm day. 

Or instead of wasting time and energy showing off what we can do at 85, we opt for the ultimately more sensible and much more enjoyable strategy of not letting the unimportant interfere with the essential. 

Why would anyone in their right mind, in the latter years of their lives, burden themselves with a long list of what I should do or ought to do instead of enjoying the pleasure of doing what I want to do?

As Matthew reminds in his gospel, it is later than we think and as Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians belt out the same message in more colloquial terms, as the seasons of our lives move inexorably towards a winter time, it’s no harm to remind ourselves too that while we’ve already a lot done, there’s still much more to do, albeit at an easier, more leisurely pace.

After all, God will give us whatever time we need to do what he wants us to do. 

My new book, Holding Out for a Hero, The Long Wait for Pope Francis, has just been published. It is a look back on my fifty years as a priest, a look forward to what the future (under the leadership of Pope Francis) may bring and a focus on some of the key challenges facing our Church at this time of transition.