Today was (is) the Feast of the Presentation, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. (Lk 2:25-26)
An essay in the February 2009 issue of Columbia magazine explores the role of the elderly as prophets in the model of Simeon and Anna. The author, Camillian Father Carlo Notaro, notes that in his Letter to the Elderly (1999), Pope John Paul II stated that the elderly "are the guardians of our collective memor, and thus the privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values which support and guide life in society."
The subject is certainly worthy of deeper exploration, although I'm not quite willing to confer prophetic authority on every old person. There are plenty of old fools, old farts, and grumpy old men out there. And yet our senior citizens have a lifetime of experience on which to draw. I remembering hearing or reading at some point that the older a person gets, the closer they get to death, and the more serious thought they give to the last things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell).
Fr. Notaro notes three ways in which the elderly can be prophets. First, "they may act as an example in words and deeds toward their families." Second, "they can proclaim words of truth to the Church, especially in the parishes to which they belong." Finally, "the elderly can be a witness to the world."
Fr. Notaro quotes from John Paul II again toward the end of his essay.
How many people find understanding and comfort from elderly people who may be lonely or ill and yet are able to instill courage by their loving advice, their silent prayers, or their witness of suffering borne with patient acceptance!