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New book offers positive reflections on ageing

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With the recently announced aged care Royal Commission putting the treatment of elderly people centre stage, albeit for the wrong reasons, a new book by Adelaide priest Fr Noel Mansfield MSC is a welcome reflection on the more positive aspects of ageing.

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Dawn to Dusk is Fr Mansfield’s honest and humble account of his own fascinating life as a Catholic priest, teacher and missionary with particular emphasis on how Christian spirituality relates to growing old.

He quotes heavily from Pope Francis, who has described the elderly as a ‘the roots and memory of a people, which makes them a precious treasure’, and he turns to the gospels, the saints and some of the greatest writers and poets to give expression to the beauty of ageing.

But as the title suggests, it is not all about the latter years. The latter years are the end point to which we journey. The earlier parts of the journey need to be remembered. Only then can the latter parts be seen in a true light.

Fr Mansfield begins with his own childhood growing up as the sixth of seven children in a Bundaberg pub managed by his parents Ted and Reta.

We were not sheltered from the ordinary life of people. In fact, I am sure that it enabled all of us to participate in the life of the community and meet friends and strangers as part of our life.

These years living alongside the characters of a country hotel may also be why he is such a natural storyteller. The book is full of anecdotes from his own life including his diagnosis of epilepsy after a heavy knock to the head in a football match, which prevented him from being ordained for seven years.

But it also includes colourful descriptions and tales of the many people he met along the way in his ministry in different parts of Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Now based at the MSC parish of Hindmarsh-Findon, he writes of the people he visits in nursing homes – some of them incredibly positive and all of them wanting to share their stories. He also speaks of his own ageing process and learning to adapt to his deteriorating eyesight.

He is insistent that life still has much to offer him and he to it.

I am at the end of my life’s story. Yet I feel that I am just beginning. In some people’s eyes, when you reach your eighties you are finished and can retire from life. This is not my experience. I feel as if I am just beginning to understand what life is all about. I am developing a new kind of productivity that is simply ‘being’. I am moving from doing to being.

Fr Mansfield concedes that there may come a time when we need to hand over our lives and be led – and perhaps to places that we would rather not go.

Slowly, we will lose our ability to look after ourselves. When we get to that stage of life, then we need to submit gracefully.

The book’s emphasis on the value and dignity of the human person at every step of life’s journey is a timely reminder of the importance of the words of Pope Francis: ‘In every elderly person you serve, may you see the face of Christ’.

Dawn to Dusk by Noel Mansfield MSC is available at http://www.coventrypress.com.au

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