The Fourth Commandment – Honor your Father and your Mother

by admin on September 1, 2011

Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you* (Deut 5:16)

In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul reminds his disciples of this commandment, given by God for all human beings: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on earth. “» (Eph 6, 1-3). We must observe this law, which requires us to honour our father and mother, not only in order to be happy on earth, but above all to avoid eternal punishment, since to fail to observe this commandment is to sin against justice and charity, and thus to fall into grave sin, which can result in eternal damnation. « Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.* (Ex 21, 17).

The severity with which God enjoins on us the observance of this commandment shows us the gravity of any infringement of it. In a liturgi­cal celebration of the Law of God — for which Moses convoked the whole people of God who took part in it by declaring their individual acceptance of each statement of the Levites — the maledictions which the latter had to proclaim against those who transgressed the divine laws, included the fol­lowing: «‘Cursed be he who dishonours his father and his mother’. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.‘» (Deut 27, 16). And the Book of Sirach reminds us of this commandment, stressing the debt of gratitude we owe to our par­ents: « With all your heart honour your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents your were born; and what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?* (Sir 7, 27-28).

And Jesus Christ, confirming this commandment and emphasising how very pleasing faithful observance of it is to God, who has no patience with any of the many pretexts we invent for evading it, censures the Phari­sees in these terms: «’‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honour his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. You hypocites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’* (Mt 15, 8-9).

Here is this commandment of God, as spelt out in a memorable page by the author of the Book of Sirach: Listen to me your father, O children; and act accordingly, that you may be kept in safety.  For the Lord honoured the father above the children, and he confirmed the right of the mother over her sons.  Whoever honours his father atones for his sins, and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure.  Whoever honours his father will be gladdened by his own children, and when he prays he will be heard.  Whoever glorifies his father will have long life, and whoever obeys the Lord will refresh his mother; he will serve his parents as his masters.  Honour your father by word and deed, that a blessing from him may come upon you. For a father’s blessing strengthens the houses of children, but a moth­er’s curse uproots their foundations.  Do not glorify yourself by dishonouring your father, for your father’s dis­honour is no glory to you.  For a man’s glory comes from honouring his father, and it is a disgrace for children not to respect their mother.  O son, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if he is lacking in understanding, show forbearance; in all your strength do not despise him.  For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your sins it will be credited to you; in the day of your affliction it will be remembered in your favour; as frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.  Whoever forsakes his father is like a blasphemer, and whoever angers his mother is cursed by the Lord.» (Sir 3,1-16).

All these sayings are the voice of God, which tell us how we should behave towards our parents.

But the observance of this commandment goes further than this, and extends to all God-given authority. Thus, St. Paul, having said that chil­dren should obey and respect their parents, exhorts subjects to obey their superiors:  «Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. (…) Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3, 20-24). These words are a call to faith inviting us to serve our superiors, seeing God in them and hoping that He will reward us with his inheritance.

So, we must look upon our superiors as parents, loving them, serving them, honouring them as sent by God to us so that, as servants of God -because their mission to us is a service – they may help us, guide our steps and lead us on the right road through life.

And let us remember that we are all of us sent by God, each of us in our own particular place: children are sent by God to their parents, to be brought up, educated and started off on the road of life; teachers are sent by God to instruct their pupils; pupils are sent by God to their teachers to be taught the arts, the natural and supernatural sciences. In this way, every­thing is service, whether in the case of parents, teachers, children, pupils or employees. It is all service in the Lord’s name.

Contractors and employers serve their employees, giving them work, paying their salaries, providing them with a steady and honourable liveli­hood. In this way, we are all servants of God, serving Him in the person of our neighbours.

This doctrine is confirmed by the words of Jesus Christ: «Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.» (Jn 13, 20). And, speaking to his disciples after the mother of the sons of Zebedee had asked Him to allow them to occupy the seats of honour in the kingdom of Heaven, the Lord said to them: « You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you should be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.» (Mt 20, 25-28).

Moreover, since we are Christians, followers of Christ, we must all become servants of our brothers and sisters; we must serve them with love, with respect for the personality and dignity of our neighbour, because the dignity of each one does not come from the place he or she occupies but rather from each person’s right to that respect. In one case, it is a father’s right, in another a son’s; in one it is the right of a teacher, in another that of a pupil.

It is true that some people are in charge and give orders, and others have to carry them out; but we are all of us beings created by God, in his image and likeness, destined for eternal life when we shall share in the life of God. Therefore, God created us intelligent beings who can think and know, capable of discovering God. He made us living beings, able to dis­cern good and evil and decide for one or the other and, on the basis of this choice, merit either eternal reward or eternal punishment.

We have all come from the mind of God. And, thanks solely to the divine goodness, our intelligence is capable of reaching this creative thought, in the measure in which God wills to transmit it. Hence, we must use this intelligence to know God, the marvels of his creative work which are the object of human science, and the divine mysteries which He has revealed to us. Above all, by availing of all this knowledge which God has conveyed to us in so many ways and, last of all, by means of his own Son, we must seek to love Him and serve Him in the person of our brothers and sisters, who, like us and with us, are children of the same Father in Heaven.

It was under this aspect of service that Jesus Christ founded his Church: to bring the founts of salvation to the whole human race! All the members of the Church must consider themselves as servants of God, working in the interest of this saving plan, like Christ who came «to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many* (Mt 20.28); for the benefit of the members of his Mystical Body, He set up the holy Hierarchy, to whom He entrusted the mission which He had received from his Father: «As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.» (Jn 20, 21)

This is why the Pope, the true and universal representative of Christ, Leader and visible Head of His Church, signs himself: “Servant of the Serv­ants of God”.

In this way, the commandment which orders us to honour our father and mother embraces all authority, which, as in the case of our parents, represents God for us and was established by Him.

Thus, the Church was instituted by Christ, to serve God and the Peo­ple of God. We should, therefore, respect it, love it and follow everything that it teaches. Just as, in the Old Testament, God sent his prophets to instruct and guide the Chosen People in the way of his commandments, so also Jesus Christ has given us the Church to continue by means of it, the work of our redemption. Hence, we must love this Church of which we are members, serve it and respect it as the spiritual Mother given us by God for the glory of his name and Mother also of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, his Son and our Saviour.

Ave Maria!

Click Here to see the List of The Ten Commandments with 122 Questions to Examine Your Conscience with.

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