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Aging with grace

Rita Whalen McCaffrey stands outside her Weston home. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) Rita Whalen McCaffrey stands outside her Weston home.
For Catholics like Rita Whalen McCaffrey, aging with grace means more than being elegant, beautiful, poised and dignified. Grace, for a Catholic, is a participation in the life of God – something for all ages.
 
“The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of His own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it,” explains the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification.”
 
Grace, for Catholics, is a supernatural gift of God bestowed on them through the merits of Jesus Christ for their salvation.
 
So to “age with grace,” one must be concerned not only with the physical aspects of the process but also with the spiritual.
 
For some people, the aging process seems to begin early with aches and pains, greying hair, facial wrinkles and difficulty remembering, while for others, their physical appearance and quick wit belie their true age.
 
For some time moves slowly, while for others – like McCaffrey – days and years pass at what seems a blink of an eye. “You wake up one day and you’re 80 years old,” she said with a smile.
 
That’s her age, and she moves through life with her husband, Francis – currently a Rutland County Treatment Court Judge with the Rutland Drug Court -- embracing all that God has given her.
 
The founder of Dismas of Vermont, she remains active in the Dismas community – transitional homes for former prisoners. She worships just up the road from her home in Weston at Weston Priory and participates in a monthly Scripture group in Weston and a biweekly prayer group in Rutland where she used to be a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.
 
McCaffrey – tall and stately with blue eyes and white hair -- was the 1986 Vermont Mother of the Year, the 1987 national Mother of the Year and a Vermont state senator. She has participated in Cursillo and still attends Group Reunion meetings.
 
The mother of four and grandmother of six, McCaffrey – a longtime peace activist – said it is important to recognize Christ in others. “I’m interested in other people. It’s about relationships and learning more about each other,” she said.
 
She has been blessed with good health – though she has knee problems – and she is happiest when she is doing outreach work.
 
But it is her desire to live the Gospel that helps her age with grace. “It gives my life so much goodness and strength,” she said. “It’s such a gift to live the Gospel. It’s a greater gift when other people…join you.”
 
Her faith gives her life meaning and purpose, and she takes seriously the role of the people as the Church.
 
Anne M. Steinberg, administrator of Michaud Memorial Manor in Derby Line, encourages people, as they age, to continue their involvement in church and their relationship with God. “Maintain close relationships with loved ones, continue involvement in your community, continue to take pride in your appearance through dress and grooming, don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed, don’t be embarrassed by limitations that you may be experiencing because of age-related changes – acknowledge them and make accommodations for them as able,” she suggested.
 
Steinberg said persons she has witnessed aging with grace most successfully are the ones who continuing to take care of themselves as they age through proper diet and exercise and by maintaining their usual routines, lifestyles and relationships to the extent possible: “Sometimes this may mean making modifications as needed to allow them to continue doing the things they love.”
 
As she ages, McCaffrey “pushes through” even when she is tired. “I’m motivated. I have things to do,” she said.
 
Part of her self care is participating in the prayer life of the Benedictine brothers at the priory, receiving the Eucharist, spending time with family and friends and following the Boston Red Sox.
 
Her advice for those who want to age with grace is to maintain an active faith life, be optimistic and live with hope. “Do something you’re passionate about,” she added. Get to know people. Share what you’re able to share. Listen to other people. Don’t isolate yourself. Pray for others. Be grateful for all the grace God has given.”

Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
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