In the Heart of the Family

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We sometimes see elderly people with their children who are themselves approaching old age.  No matter how old the parents are, no matter how old the children, the law of the Lord remains:

"Honor your father and mother."

Even without the Fourth Commandment we would be able to see that we have certain obligations toward our parents, for we would never have existed without them.  They are special; they have given us life.  This gift is so great that there is no way to repay them completely.

To see what is required of us by the Fourth Commandment, we need to look at family relations.  Without children, husband and wife make a marriage; with a child, they make a family.  The child is an extension of their love for each other and is included in their love.  The relation of parent to child is a lasting one, no matter how old one is.  It is from his parents that a child learns what love is, and in that love the child is able to learn that God is also his loving Father.

Each child is a precious gift from God.  But along with the blessing of a child there are many duties and responsibilities that parents must take on.  God gives them the authority and duty to maintain good order in the home, to provide food and clothing, to educate, and to tend to the welfare of each member of their family.

Now, the commandment tells us to "honor" our parents.  To honor means to hold in high regard, to respect, and to love.  A child honors his parents when he respects their authority over him.  This also includes respecting and obeying those whom our parents place in authority over us, such as a teacher.  It is part of God's plan to provide for the well-being and development of children, to place them under the loving authority of their parents.  And so obedience to that authority is required.

With the years, children may discover faults and weaknesses in their parents; in God's plan children can sometimes be a powerful force for good and a source of grace for their parents.  Prayer and sacrifice for the welfare of one's parents are always blessed by God.

As children get older they need less care and direction until they reach a point at which they are able to order their own lives.  It is only reasonable, then, that the relationship between parent and child should gradually change.  Obedience turns into respect for the wisdom of our parents until we reach an age at which we are no longer bound by obedience but still gratefully accept our parents' advice.

Anyone who honors his parents will, when he grows older, look after their needs.  In this regard, life is like a seesaw with the heavier end holding up the other.  As a youngster, the child sits at the end upraised, with mother and father holding down the other.  Many years later, the child holds the seesaw down while the elderly parents receive the care and attention.  They cared for us; now we care for them.

The Bible teaches: "My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives" (Sir 3:12).  And God promises to bless those who keep the Fourth Commandment:  Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you (Ex 20:12).

The Family Today

In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World", Pope John Paul II singled out the family as the main target in the renewal of modern society.  The family is so important that we cannot hope to survive as a society unless family life is healthy and strong.  This means that strong love among all the members must unite the whole family and make it holy.

The Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, was united with that holy love.  We should look to them as our model for family life.

There are many forces in our society that weaken the bonds of family life and even threaten to destroy it.  The Christian family will survive only with renewed love for God and neighbor.  We must pray together for our own families and for the family in general.  Where there is no prayer, there will be no family unity and peace.  With prayer, we can hope for the blessings of family happiness on earth and reunion is our heavenly home.

Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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