The Fourth Commandment
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
When we were children we were taught the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment “Honor your father and mother” was of special significance to us as our parents were everything to us at that time.
I still remember week after week we went for confession and the most common sin was disobeying our parents and being rude to them. Very often we were angry with them for not allowing us to do as we wished, forcing us to study and reprimanding us when we do something wrong. Despite all the punishment that they met out on us for our various offences, there was no doubt in our minds of their love and concern for us under all circumstances.
We can recollect the sleepless nights they spent taking care of us when we were sick, the moments of anxiety they went through when we were involved in some accidents and the tears they shed during intense prayer for our recovery.
We remember the strenuous labor and the mental stress they endured to earn a meager income to provide us with some basic comforts in life and a decent education, which they themselves were denied. All they lived for was the well being of our future not theirs. They did all that without any ulterior motive that one day we will repay that gratitude.
Today many of you are parents yourselves and only now fully appreciate the extent of love parents have for their own children. You understand the pain and anxiety when your children suffer from all forms of ailments and failures in their lives. You realize the severity of the heartache when your children refuse to heed your advice and meet disaster as a result.
Some of you may be unfortunate to have children afflicted with terminal illness and we are aware of the tremendous pain it can cause everyday. Some of our parents have undergone such great torment in their lives.
Today many of us may be successful and are better off in life than our parents. Many, even our friends and relatives, would be jealous of our achievements especially when we are better than them. The only people who feel proud when we overtake them will be our parents. The joy and happiness that accompanies the successes of our children are immense and insurmountable.
We may have grown older and become more successful but sin against the fourth commandment, honor your father and mother, is still our common weakness although we may not realize it. In our later life, disobedience to parents is expressed in the form of negligence and apathy towards them when they become incapacitated and of no use to us.
We become calculative among the siblings of who should take care and provide for them when they are no more in a position to earn. When they become ill or handicapped we conveniently pass the responsibility of caring for them to others. We give the excuse we are too busy and have no time and no money. I admit it is not easy to take care of elderly parents who are invalids, especially in a fast moving materialistic world, but we fail to realize it is our responsibility and ours alone. We cannot run away from it.
The greatest fear among elderly people is loneliness. This is particularly true for those who have lost their spouses and are all alone in this cruel world. For many of them, it is not money, gifts or food that they need. All they ask for is the love of fellow humans in particular their children, to spare some time for them.
It is shocking that even we as Christians sometimes shun away from this responsibility to our aged parents. We are too busy with our jobs and church activities and pray hard that God will send somebody to take of them. We have the misguided notion that prayer alone without a heart and without lifting a finger would work miracles to provide the love longed for by our elderly parents.
As children do we recognize their needs and try our utmost to fulfill them or are we too preoccupied with our church rituals and pray that God will take care of them? One thing I am convinced; God does not come in person to do that. He works through His creations like you and me. If we just pray and wait for God’s miracle, we will be sadly disappointed.
Very often we, the children and priests are quick to anoint the sick and dying when in coma and subsequently give them a grand funeral service. We even offer masses and hold elaborate memorial services for the dead but lack the same enthusiasm in being supportive and being with them when they were alive.
Pope Benedict XVI states that Rabbi Neusner “rightly sees this commandment as anchoring the heart of the social order”. It strengthens generational relationships, makes explicit the connection between family order and societal stability, and reveals that the family is “both willed and protected by God.” Because parents’ unconditional love for their children mirrors God’s love, and because they have a duty to pass the faith on to their children, the Catechism calls the family “a domestic church”, “a privileged community” and the “original cell of social life”.
The Catechism says this commandment requires duties of children to parents that include:
- Respect toward parents that also flows to brothers and sisters.
- Gratitude, as expressed in a quote from Sirach: “Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?”
- Obedience to parents for as long as the child lives at home “when it is for his good or the good of the family”, except when obedience would require the child to do something morally wrong.
- Support that requires grown children to offer material and moral support for their aging parents, particularly at times of “illness, loneliness, or distress”.
Keeping this commandment, according to the Catechism, also requires duties of parents to children which include:
- “Moral education, spiritual formation and evangelization” of their children.
- Respect for their children as children of God and human persons.
- Proper discipline for children while being careful not to provoke them.
- “Avoiding pressure to choose a certain profession or spouse”, which does not preclude parents from giving “judicious advice”.
- “Being a good example” to their children.
- “Acknowledging their own failings” to their children to guide and correct them.
The Gospel of Matthew relates that when told his mother and brothers were waiting to see him, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Stretching his hand over his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” Pope Benedict XVI stated that this dictum of Jesus brought the fourth commandment to a new and higher level. By doing God’s will, any person can become part of the universal family of Jesus. Thus, the fourth commandment’s responsibilities extend to the greater society and requires respect for “legitimate social authorities”. The Catechism specifies “duties of citizens and nations”, which are summarizes as:
- “Obedience and honor” to “all who for our good have received authority in society from God”.
- “Payment of taxes, exercising the right to vote and defending one’s country”.
- “An obligation to be vigilant and critical”, which requires citizens to criticize that which harms human dignity and the community.
- “A duty to disobey” civil authorities and directives that are contrary to the moral order.
- “To practice charity”, which is a “necessity for any working family or society”; it is the “greatest social commandment” and requires people to love God and neighbor.
- “To welcome the foreigner” who is in need of security and livelihood that cannot be found in his own country.
- “An obligation for rich nations to help poor nations”, especially in times of “immediate need”.
- “An expectation for families to help other families”.
The first 3 Commandments were about our relationship with God. Beginning with the 4th Commandment the commandments take on a new directions. The commandments now are more about our relationship to others but based in our relationship to God. Although the 4th Commandment uses the phrase Father and Mother, it goes beyond the relationship of child to parent. It also encompasses, parent to child; us to people of authority, and those of authority to us. In a phrase, it is all about the two way street of respecting and loving others.