Honor your father and your mother, so that you may have a long life upon the land, which the Lord your God will give to you. - Exodus 20:12
The Fourth Commandment is one of the three commandments that are expressed positively. Instead of “thou shalt not,” it tells us something that we are obligated to do. God has willed that we should honor Him above everyone and everything for having created us from nothing, and after Him we should honor our parents first for having given us life, and then other people who are in positions of authority over us. It is also the first commandment with a promise for those who keep it; God says that they will “have a long life in the land.”
Honor doesn’t mean blind obedience. If anyone in authority over us, even our parents, tells us to do something that is contrary to the Law of God or teaches us something that is contrary to what God has revealed, then we have an obligation to disobey them because God must come first. However, when respect for our parents and for civil authorities doesn’t contradict God we ought to respect them for God’s sake and in His name. Just as parents have an obligation to love and care for their children, so children have an obligation to respect their parents and be grateful for the sacrifices they make for them. When parents and civil authorities respect the Law of God and the Commandments and we honor them in God’s name there will tend to be peace and prosperity among families and communities. When either side fails it brings great harm to communities and individuals.
God, and the Church in His name, calls on families to care for the children of the family, the elderly, sick and handicapped, and for the poor within their own families. Since we all struggle at times, the Church calls on families in a community to help one another in times of need. Finally, society should make it possible for families to care for their own and to care for one another. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives of interfere in its life (CCC 2209).” The principle of subsidiarity states that issues should be dealt with locally, at the nearest level, whenever possible. When we are close to one another we can see what’s going on and come up with solutions to fit the specific need and respect the people and families involved.
The Bible is a book about family. It begins, in Genesis 1 and 2, with the creation of the world and the marriage of Adam and Eve, it continues by telling the story of Adam and Eve, their children, and their descendants, and concludes in Revelation 19-22 with another marriage, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and the marriage of Christ and the Church. God wants us to see one another as family. Therefore, the Catechism says, “In our brothers and sisters we see the children of our parents; in our cousins, the descendants of our ancestors, in our fellow citizens, the children of our country; in the baptized, the children of our mother the Church; in every human person, a son or daughter of the One who wants to be called ‘our Father.’ In this way our relationships with our neighbors are recognized as personal in character. The neighbor is not a ‘unit’ in the human collective; he is ‘someone’ who by his known origins deserves particular attention and respect (CCC 2212).”
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.