It’s a running joke in my family. The Ignatian Volunteer Corps website describes the program as one for “mature” individuals. How did I manage to qualify? My silly, goofy side belies my membership in AARP.
Kidding aside, the website further specifies volunteers as “age 50 or better”. Better! With longer life expectancy and research proclaiming sixty as the new 40, us over-fifty something’s are still in our prime. We leave behind the busiest time in our lives – growing in maturity, starting careers, raising children – but not yet ready to enjoy the leisure of our golden years.
“Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be,” writes Robert Browning in his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra. Although the poem is about spirituality in old age, this first line has come to evoke the image of enduring romantic love. Borrowing from Browning, John Lennon sings it as a love song, “Grow old along with me…spending our lives together. Man and wife together.”
I contemplate this oft quoted line during prayer. Although, unlike its popular interpretation, I imagine it is God who beckons me to grow old with Him. He lovingly assures me that “the best is yet to be.” He promises to fill my life with more joy, more hope, and more love as I grow old with him. The image of enduring love is one of God and me.
Returning to Browning’s poem, the first stanza continues,
“The last of life, for which the first was made
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’
If we continue to trust God to guide us, we can look forward to live as productively and more meaningfully – most likely in ways we did not know to understand nor appreciate in our youth.
As “mature” and “age 50 or better” volunteers, we enter our ministry in IVC prepared to share the wisdom, experience, and gratitude – learned from our first of life – with others in our “last of life”. One of the qualifications for Ignatian volunteers is to “want to give in response to the blessings and love that God has given them.” Ronald Rohlheiser, OMI, in “Spiritual Maturity” (a publication for Loyola Marymount University), cites William Butler Yeats’ poem, Vacillation.
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
Isn’t this why we are Ignatian volunteers? Because we know we have been abundantly blessed and now seek to bless. As we near the conclusion of the IVC year, we pause to reflect on our journey in ministry. Let us imagine God inviting us to “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.”
Arminda, her husband and their two teen sons live near Los Angeles. She previously worked in public policy. She is spending her first year as an Ignatian volunteer with Get On the Bus, a program that brings children and their caregivers from throughout the state of California to visit their mothers and fathers in prison.