By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

Faith allows people to gracefully let go of their attachment to their younger life so they can grab God’s gifts for them as they grow older and closer to him. Sister Janet Franklin CSJ will speak on “The Spirituality of Aging” at the conference, “Family Choices: Embracing Body, Mind and Spirit in Dementia Care,” on Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Catholic Life Center, 1800 S. Acadian Thruway in Baton Rouge.

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Elderly people can deepen their spirituality by praying the rosary. File photo


Sister Janet, who is certified in spiritual direction and pastoral care, said, “Our minds and bodies may be diminishing, but our spirituality continues to grow if we find ways to develop it.”

The New Roads resident talked about challenges the elderly face.

One of the common challenges is loneliness. “People can experience loneliness even if they live in a facility,” Sister Janet said.

The elderly can also experience grief over the loss of loved ones, things or the ability to do certain things.

For some, physical ailments may threaten to put their focus on their pain and suffering.

There is also the necessity of facing death, which secular society says to avoid.

Sister Janet urged people to respond to the above challenges by deepening their faith so “their prayer can be a breath in and breath out.”

“It takes a great deal of faith, trust, tenacity, courage and all kinds of things to get to the other side (of a challenge),” said Sister Janet.

She stressed it is important for elderly people to simplify their faith life.

“When Jesus said we have to become little children, we do this spiritually,” Sister Janet said.

A former chaplain for an assisted living residence with the Holy Cross Sisters in Wisconsin, Sister Janet said people who are unable to go to Mass every day or every Sunday can find ways to spend time with God and develop an intimacy with him.

“Whether it’s personal prayer or in a group, they can deepen their faith in God and their faith can flourish. It’s the paradox of losing and finding, emptiness and fullness,” Sister Janet said.

Those who can no longer read the Bible or other spiritual literature can repeat familiar prayers or passages from the Psalms, such as, “The Lord is my shepherd,” or pray prayers from the heart, said Sister Janet. She taught religion and literature and has a masters in literature from LSU.

Music also connects people, particularly those with dementia, with God. “People remember tunes longer than they remember words,” said Sister Janet.

Research shows gentle music, such as harp melodies, have a peaceful effect on people’s demeanor, said Sister Janet.

Religious artifacts, such as rosaries, statues or pictures of the saints, also help people connect with God, noted the sister.

While trials, such as pain and suffering, can turn a person inside out, they can help people know themselves better. It’s important for elderly people to get through such tests of faith with the help of family, friends, pastors and the faith community, said Sister Janet. She urged the elderly to think, “It’s part of my life, it’s also part of my spiritual life.”

Challenges, such as facing death, require communication between older people and their families. Family members should discuss end-of-life decisions with them, ask them how they are doing and if they need to receive the sacraments or see a priest, said Sister Janet.

She also commented on the blessings that come through life’s struggles as one ages.

People have told Sister Janet that every day is a blessing from God. “Some say every breath is a gift,” she said.

“Some people say, ‘My life has been a good life. I’ve been through some horrible things, but I’m here to talk about it.’‚ÄČ”

That realization positively affects people’s relationships, as they thank God for others who have been with them through good and difficult times.

People also realize the most important blessing God has given them is faith.

“It’s an intangible, but real gift,” Sister Janet said.