What Catholics Believe - Chapter Twenty-Eight

Honor your father and mother - The Fourth Commandment

I’m a young father, married to my wife, Schara, for five years now and blessed with three beautiful children. I have begun to gain that special perspective only parents can have regarding the daily responsibilities of parenthood. This perspective has led to a better appreciation for all that my parents have done for me and for all that parents experience.

There is an endless litany of unsung heroics that parents are constantly mustering the courage to face: three-hour health insurance meetings; paying for diapers, braces, and lessons rather than vacations and new gadgets; washing, drying and folding laundry again and again and again; going through the day with “Sesame Street” songs stuck in your head; not to mention the loss of sleep and the inability to relax until everyone is safe in the house for the night. Then, there is the patience parents must summon when a child refuses to eat dinner or throws a fit at the grocery store.

My children are very young, and so I don’t yet expect them to appreciate any of this. In fact, the very idea that Mom and Dad won’t be there for them or that a meal won’t be on the table each night undoubtedly has not entered into their innocent minds.

All of this responsibility can wear me down at times, but it mostly gives me great joy and pride. I know any small sufferings can be offered to God as a sacrifice that will help me and my family grow in holiness. The responsibilities of family life demand that I strive to grow in virtue with the aid of God’s grace and the help of the sacraments. My wife and three children are four people in my life whose needs I put before my own. My life lived this way, the way of virtue and self-sacrifice, is my very vocation as a husband and father. It is the way I imitate and follow Christ, and it is my path to holiness.

The Fourth Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). This commandment first instructs children to regard their parents with respect, gratitude, and affection, and then goes on to make a promise that, in doing so, their lives will be blessed.

Our family is the “school of love” that God gives us in order for us to grow and learn about the world and our greater human family. The family is known as the “domestic Church” in so much as it is the primary community in which we are to grow in faith and experience relationships. In a family, children are born of the spouses’ love in a beautiful way that communicates to us how the love of God has brought all of us into the world.

The commandment to honor your father and your mother is a commandment to subject yourself lovingly and obediently to the legitimate authority with which God has blessed you. A child who does so will flourish. Imagine if a young child rebelled against every aspect of their parents’ authority, refused the shelter and food their parents provided, and turned their backs on the love their parents extended to them. This would not only be painful for the parents but also would be detrimental to the child. This is a way we can understand how children’s lives flourish when they subject themselves to the authority of loving parents.

So too, we must subject ourselves, out of love and gratitude, to God our Father who has “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

In addition to our parents, God has given us other authority figures in our lives. The Church herself is an authority which God commands us to obey and honor. Civil authorities (when legitimate and following the natural and moral order) also deserve our honor and cooperation.