by Jason Lewis
Research shows that attending church every week boosts your immunity and lowers blood pressure. Going to church has also been linked to increasing one’s life span by up to 33 percent. A study of cancer patients who regularly attended church showed a better response to treatment and kept living a relatively normal life despite the diagnosis.
At St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church, we welcome attendees from all walks of life, but we have a special place in our hearts for seniors. Here, we offer several reasons why attending church improves the health of older adults
Christianity advocates for a healthy lifestyle
Certainly, some churchgoers struggle with unhealthy behaviors. However, on average, people who attend church regularly drink less, unlikely to engage in promiscuous behavior or consume recreational drugs.
In the face of sickness, Christians are encouraged to keep doing their part in sustaining their health even as they rely on God for healing. Going to church provides seniors an opportunity to get active. Even simple activities such as standing, clapping and lifting hands in praise and worship can have a beneficial impact on seniors who are minimally active. Additionally, senior churchgoers can meet up for workout sessions through the SilverSneakers program. SilverSneakers, which is offered by many Medicare Advantage plans and through some churches, allows seniors to use participating fitness facilities without any additional fees.
Churches promote mental health by offering social support to older members
Isolation is the leading cause of depression and suicide among seniors. Many older adults spend their days alone with no one to interact with. Isolation leads to chronic loneliness, which is a risk factor for numerous mental health diseases including depression, being suicidal and anxiety disorders among others.
Churches form communities of people who look out for each other. Frequently going to church enables seniors to meet and foster supportive relationships with other churchgoers. These friendships go beyond the church environment to visiting each other and doing activities together.
In times of need, church members come together to support one of their own. The social support offers seniors a sense of belonging. Joining Bible studies and prayer groups provide them with something to look forward to and reduce periods of isolation.
Christianity promotes a positive outlook
High stress levels and low coping abilities are another common cause of mental health illnesses. Attending service, worshipping, prayer and fellowshipping with other people offer a burdened and stressed person respite through seeking support, guidance, and relief from a higher power. As a result, churchgoers report lower stress levels, greater problem-solving ability and improved resilience.
Christianity emphasizes the need to live life from a joyful place. When going through tough times, your faith in Jesus and a verse from the Bible will encourage you to hold on, and you can count on your church community to provide plenty of support. This support and reverence promote a positive outlook, leading to a more happier, fulfilling life.
Technology has revolutionized many areas of our lives, and the church has not been left behind. Churches are now able to reach a wider audience through live broadcast and televangelism. Therefore, even elderly people who have limited mobility can still enjoy the benefits of attending church from the comfort of their homes.
Photo credit: Pexels
One of the most comforting experiences in life, in my opinion, is that moment when a sweater or sweatshirt is taken out of the dryer and immediately put on. There is an overwhelming sensation that saturates the person from head to toe. The person feels at that very second that they were made for that sweater and that sweater was made for them. I had the blessing of participating in several World Youth Days with Bl. John Paul II. What was amazing was the reaction that the young people always had toward him and his reaction toward them. In 1993 when he was in Denver, CO he spoke to a crowd of over 500 thousand (yes over 500,000) young people. At one point he stated “You are not defined by your sins, brokenness, failure or hurt, but rather by how much later you are loved…” He also stated “Woe, to you if you do not succeed in defending life.” But the one phrase I hear repeated and quoted is “Shout the Gospel from the rooftops.” I remember hearing that and as I looked around people were in tears. They were made for this message and this message was made for them. In fact, as a result of the Holy Spirit, there was a vocation explosion in Denver and many parts of our country because of the moment in Denver 1993.
When the Gospel is proclaimed adequately it is received. It is that which we are made for, and it is that which is made for us. The problem is the word adequate. Love and truth go hand in hand while proclaiming the Gospel. Very often we, all of us included, love so much and neglect the truth or wrap ourselves in truth that they neglect love.
It can be said that love without truth is purely sentimentalism. Pope Benedict XVI states that “Without truth, charity (love) degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell…In a culture without truth; this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to… subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted… it comes to mean the opposite . . .charity (love) without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.” (Caritas in Veritate 1, 3-4)
Truth without love can be cruel and mean. In speaking bout truth St. Paul states that if he does not “…have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” At best it is annoying and at worst it is mean and cruel.
We proclaim the Gospel in love because we are made for it and it is made for us. We proclaim truth and love because it was ultimate truth and love that gifted us into creation and redemption. It is what we are made for and it was made for us.
The world does not understand love. The world wants the person to focus on the here and now and consider that this is all there may be. That is neither love nor truth.
Love is to will, and do, what is best for the other. This means loving them to heaven. To literally say “I love you so much that I will only do the good things that help get you to where you belong; heaven.” It requires sacrifice.
Authentic Christian love is not always correctly perceived as love at all and, as such, may carry with it certain consequences. Jesus knew this yet he commanded this highest form of love anyway, with consolation: “This I command you, to love one another. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you . . . Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn 15:17-18, 20).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (p.478), states, "Jesus has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, 'is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that... love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings' without exception.”
To appreciate this rich symbolism of the heart, we must remember in the Old Testament the word heart represented the core of the person. While recognized as the principle life organ, the heart was also considered the center of all spiritual activity. Here was the seat of all emotion; especially love. The heart has even greater depth when contemplated in light of the Incarnation. We believe that Jesus Christ, second person of the Holy Trinity and consubstantial with the Father, entered this world taking on our human flesh. His Sacred Heart represents love: the divine love our Lord shares with the Father and Holy Spirit in the Trinity; the perfect, divine love which God has for us; and the genuine human love Christ felt in His human nature. We hear our Lord saying "Come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will rest, for My yoke is easy and My burden light" (Mt 11:28-30). Therefore, while meditating on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are called to share in the love of the Lord and strive to express our own genuine love for God, ourselves and our neighbors.
Throughout the Gospels, we see the outpouring of Jesus' love from His heart, whether in miracle stories, the reconciliation of sinners, or the compassion for the grieving. Even on the cross, our Lord poured out His love for us: there the soldier's lance pierced His side and out flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34). St. Bonaventure said the Church was “…born from the wounded side of the Lord with the blood and water representing the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and baptism.” The early Church Fathers clearly cherished this meaning of the Sacred Heart of our Lord. St. Justin Martyr (d. 165), in his said, "We the Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock." Likewise, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) said, "The Church is the fountain of the living water that flows to us from the Heart of Christ.” St. Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) added, "John, who rested blissfully on the breast of our Lord, was inebriated with the Holy Spirit, from the Heart of all creating Wisdom he drank an understanding which transcends that of any creature." Although these are just a few brief examples from the times of the early Church, we find a profound respect for the Sacred Heart of our Lord as a font of His love which gave birth to the Church and continues to nourish its members.
The devotion continued to grow during the Middle Ages and in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass honoring the mystery of the Sacred Heart. During the age of the Protestant movement, devotion to the Sacred Heart was practiced in hope of restoring peace to a world shattered by political and religious persecution. Shortly thereafter, the devotion escalated due to the fervor surrounding the apparitions of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90). On Dec. 27, 1673, our Lord revealed, "My Divine Heart is so passionately inflamed with love... that, not being able any longer to contain within Itself the flames of Its ardent charity, it must let them spread abroad through your means, and manifest Itself to man, that they may be enriched with Its precious treasures which I unfold to you, and which contain the sanctifying and salutary graces that are necessary to hold them back from the abyss of ruin." The four apparitions provided the catalyst for the promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart: a feast day in honor of the Sacred Heart and the offering of our Lord's saving grace and friendship if the individual attended Mass and received Holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Since then, his successors have exhorted the faithful to turn to the Sacred Heart and make acts of personal consecration. They have also begged the faithful to offer prayers and penances to the Sacred Heart in reparation for the many sins of the world.
Saint Gertrude lived in the 13th century. During this time the Church was rich in scholars and mystics. These included St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Dominic, St. Clare, St. Bonaventure, St. Francis of Assisi and among many others, St. Gertrude the Great. She was born in Germany on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6, 1256). As an orphan she was raised by Benedictine nuns and eventually became a professed non. She was a close friend of St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn. Both are considered mystics.
St. Gertrude was 26 years old when she began to have visions of Jesus. Through prayer, work, fasting and the revelations of Jesus, St. Gertrude became detached from everything that would hold her back from loving and being loved by Him. During her life she received many revelations and favors among which He gave her a great familiarity with His Sacred Heart. St. Gertrude died on November 17, 1301. She left behind a great testament of love and devotion as well as 3 major writings which are 1) The Herald of Divine Love, 2) The Spiritual Exercises of St. Gertrude and 3) The Book of Special Graces. These writings have been esteemed by many theologians and saints, such as St. Francis de Sales. St. Gertrude, on the feast of St. John laid her head near the wound in the Savior’s side and heard the beating of the Divine Heart. She asked John if he had felt these pulsations on the night of the Last Supper and why he had never spoken of this experience. John replied that this “…revelation had been reserved for subsequent ages when the world, having grown cold, would have need of it to rekindle its love.”
For St. Gertrude the mystical favors granted to her as a result of reflection and devotion to the Sacred Heart included (1) gifting of hearts, (2) leaning against Jesus’ bosom (as John the Beloved did), (3) the grace of drinking from the side of Jesus, and (4) imprints of the wounds of Jesus. The Catechism, quoting Pope Pius XII's encyclical "Haurietis Aquas" (1956), states, "[Jesus] has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, 'is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that ... love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings' without exception (P. 478).”
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has different variations. There are a few principle elements that are common to all variations. According to the “Directory on Popular Piety (2001)” they are as follows: 1) Personal consecration (185); 2) Family consecration to the Sacred Heart…(186); 3) The Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus… which is evidently biblical in character and to which many indulgences have been attached; 3) the act of reparation, a prayer with which the faithful, mindful of the infinite goodness of Christ, implore mercy for the offences committed in so many ways against his Sacred Heart(187); 5) The pious practice of the first Fridays of the month which derives from the "great promises" made by Jesus to St. Margaret Mary. At a time when sacramental communion was very rare among the faithful, the first Friday devotion contributed significantly to a renewed use of the Sacraments of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist. In our own times, the devotion to the first Fridays, even if practiced correctly, may not always lead to the desired spiritual fruits. Hence, the faithful require constant instruction so that any reduction of the practice to mere credulity is avoided and an active faith encouraged so that the faithful may undertake their commitment to the Gospel correctly in their lives. They should also be reminded of the absolute preeminence of Sunday, the "primordial feast"(188), which should be marked by the full participation of the faithful at the celebration of the Holy Mass.
It seems there is a great theological and anthropological thread in Sacred Heart Devotion. The thread of Theology reveals to us, the deep insight into the depth of love and interest that Jesus has in the life of the individual person, and how this devotion calls us into a real intimacy. The anthropological thread reveals to us truth about ourselves. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Our humanity is only complete and fulfilled to the degree that we live in him. As St. Augustine states in his Confessions “You have made us for yourselves O’ Lord, and our hearts will not rest until they rest in you.”
Let us take a moment and look at our patron saint regarding Mission and Holiness. Who was St. Gertrude? She was born on 6 January 1256 in the little town of Eisleben in Thuringia. At age 5, Gertrude went to the monastery school of Helfta in Saxony, and since then has always been known as "Gertrude of Helfta". She dedicated herself to study. It was not long before she surpassed all her companions. She also discovered Christ in the monastery, and the beauty of living for him and with him in the intimacy of love. But the divine Teacher remained in the background of her life for some time while she used all her faculties to improve her education, becoming proficient in literature, philosophy, song and the refined art of miniature painting.
After several years, Gertrude moved from the monastery school to the novitiate, taking the veil and becoming a nun. For her Jesus was "Someone", but her studies were still her all. But she was not on the wrong track, for knowledge, when it goes hand in hand with humility, does not distance people from God. And he was waiting on her path. In 1280, she was 24 years old and a half-hearted and distracted nun. Towards the end of the year, she went through an inner crisis that lasted several weeks. She felt lonely, lost and depressed. Her human plans disintegrated like shattered idols. This might have been the end of everything, but instead, it was a new beginning.
On 27 January 1281, Gertrude saw Jesus in person in the form of an adolescent who said to her, "I have come to comfort you and bring you salvation". Remembering that day, she was to write: "Jesus, my Redeemer, you have lowered my indomitable head to your gentle yoke, preparing for me the medicine suited to my weakness". From that moment, she was solely concerned with living in full union with Jesus. In her writings, she established the date of her newfound unity with Christ as 23 June 1281: all her life she must have seen that day as the day of her new birth, the birth of the true Gertrude in the image of Christ.
She dedicated herself entirely to the study of Scripture, writings of the Church Fathers and theological treatises. She found delight in reading the letters of Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard and Hugh of Saint-Victor. From a scholar specialized in the humanities, she became a "theologian" filled with God and his fragrance. Her life was truly filled with the Lord alone. Gertrude did not want to be the only one to enjoy this supreme "Pleasure": so, she began to write short treatises for the Sisters and those who approached her in which she explained the most difficult passages of Scripture- true spiritual treasures written in a clear and lively style. The monastery parlour was also often filled with people in search of her words, comfort and guidance. She exercised a great influence on souls.
Since her conversion, she had become the confidant of Jesus, who revealed to her the infinite Love of his divine Heart and charged her to spread it among human beings with love for the suffering and for sinners. Gertrude's ecstasies with Jesus prompted her to write those ardent pages that would bring souls to him. Humble, always happy and smiling, with a loving heart for all, she sparkled with trust, joy and peace, and led everyone to the Lord. To her soul, Jesus was like a spring day, vibrant with life and scented with flowers: Love par excellence, the one overwhelming Love. This is why she is known on the one hand as the "Teresa of Germany" and on the other, the "theologian of the Sacred Heart". One day, Jesus said to Gertrude: "It would be good to make known to men and women how they would benefit from remembering that I, the Son of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, always stand before God for the salvation of the human race, and that should they commit some sin through their weakness. I offer my unblemished Heart to the Father for them".
She truly became one with Jesus and transmitted him to her readers in the many works she has given to us- some of which have been lost. In 1298 her health deteriorated but she transformed her sufferings into love, an offering with Jesus to the Father and a gift for humankind. During her long and painful illness, she decided to recount the "adventure" of her conversion and to tell of the wonderful revelations with which Jesus had favored her: "Until the age of 25, I was a blind …you, Jesus, deigned to grant me the priceless familiarity of your friendship by opening to me in every way that most noble casket of your divinity, which is your divine Heart, and offering me in great abundance all your treasures contained in it". On 17 November 1301, at age 45 she rejoined her Bridegroom forever. Interestingly, she is the only woman among the saints to be called "the Great': St. Gertrude the Great.