Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

With people living longer these days how can families treat their elders with respect even though they may be getting ill tempered or confused.

The fourth commandments calls on each of us to provide our aging parents with all the material and moral support we can, especially in times of illness, loneliness and distress. Chapter three of the Book of Sirach tells us that when we do so, we lay up treasure for ourselves.

Caring for our elderly relatives and friends is not only about physical and material things. It is also a time when we can help them to integrate the joys and sorrows, hopes and anxieties of life into a vision of life in which they acknowledge Gods providence and rely totally on his mercy and love. We must always approach this task with love and respect, remembering those words in the Gospel, at the last judgment: "you did it to me". In caring for the aged we also bear witness to our belief in the dignity of all human persons. Caring for the aged is an enterprise of human solidarity and of evangelical love. The elderly have much to teach us. Whenever possible, having them share their life experiences with us, learning from their acquired wisdom, can also help us to see their great inner value and increase our respect for them.

Nonetheless, looking after the elderly, as you point out in your question, can be very taxing on the individual. There are many services available to families that offer them real help. For instance, the Elisabeth Bruyere Health Center and other hospitals offer numerous geriatric out-patient and inpatient programmes designed to help people cope with the many complications of aging. I know many people who have benefitted greatly from these programmes. That is why we must help each other in this task, especially in obtaining the professional assistance which is available and combining it with the insights of our faith.