Fix it or Forget it – It cannot be underestimated how important the family is for the very existence of society and civilization. The widespread breakdown of the family in our own time already shows the grave results that flow from such a breakdown. Can our civilization be secure or stable if such a breakdown is allowed to continue? The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity. (Catechism 2207, 2210) 

The Fourth Commandment is  Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Ex 20:12) 

Lack of Respect – One of the Key maladies of our day is a lack of respect of the young toward their elders. I remember when I was young that my Father would not allow us to watch the Flintstones. He banned it because he said that it made adults look stupid (it did) and that viewing it would not help us children to respect our elders. Children today of course are expose to much worse. A regular theme of sitcoms is that children run the show and parents and adults are all a bunch of idiots. Music from the 1960s on has produced a steady diet of anti-authoritarian themes which question and undermine the wisdom of elders and the past. Many children today are bold toward their parents, teachers and other elders. They often act as though they were speaking to a peer or an equal. Much of this comes from a culture that has largely jettisoned the insights of the 4th Commandment. 

Reverence or Ruin: One of the most essential fruits of the fourth commandment is to instill respect. Respect is essential for there to be teaching. For if a child does not respect his elders, how can he learn from them? If he cannot respect, he cannot learn. And if he cannot learn then the wisdom of the past including the faith, cannot be communicated to him. And if the these cannot be communicated to him, he is doomed to error-ridden and misguided life fraught with foolish decisions. When this happens broadly in a society to children in general, (as it has in ours), civilization itself is threatened as whole generations loose the wisdom of the past and are condemned to repeat major errors and take up behaviors long ago abandoned as unwise and destructive. Without heartfelt reverence being instilled we are doomed to continue seeing an erosion in the good order and the collected wisdom necessary to sustain any civilization. 

But reverence must be instilled. It must be insisted upon and their should be consequences for rejecting its demands. Too many parents today do not command respect. They speak of wanting their children to be their friends. But children have plenty of friends. What they need are parents, parents who are strong and secure, firm in their guidance, loving and consistent in their discipline, and not easily swayed by the unreasonable protests of children. No one will follow and uncertain trumpet and children need firm, clear and certain direction. If we want children to rediscover respect for their elders then we must insist upon it and command it of them. 

What are some of the implications of the 4th commandment? The Catechism is actually quite thorough in describing them in Paragraph #s 2214-2220: 

The Origin of respect – Respect for parents derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love, and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace. “With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (Sirach 7:27-28)

Obedience - Respect is shown by true docility and obedience. “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 6:20)… As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”(Col. 3:20) Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so. As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them.  

Honor and care in old age – The fourth commandment also reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress. “Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure. Whoever honors 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.”(Sir. 3:2-6). 

Wider family implications – The fourth commandment also promotes harmony in all of family life; it thus concerns relationships between brothers and sisters. Finally, a special gratitude is due to those from whom they have received the gift of faith, the grace of Baptism, and life in the Church. These may include parents, grandparents, other members of the family, pastors, catechists, and other teachers or friends. 

Societal ImplicationsThe fourth commandment is addressed expressly to children in their relationship to their father and mother, because this relationship is the most universal. [But] It likewise concerns the ties of kinship between members of the extended family. It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Finally, it extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it. (Catechism # 2199) 

Another important key in instilling respect is for those in authority to be “respectable.” Parents and all those in authority have obligations and duties that flow from their status. To overlook or ignore these obligations places significant burdens upon children, subordinates, and others. This in turn can lead to bewilderment and contributes to an undermining of the respect and honor which ought ordinarily be paid parents, elders and those in authority. Thus, while parents and lawful authorities ought to be respected it is also true to say that they must conduct themselves in a manner that is respectable and observe their duties with care. What are some of these duties? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a fine summary of them and the text is largely reproduced here. 

The duties of parents – Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law…They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service…self-denial, sound judgment, and self- mastery are learned…Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them…Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies…parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church…Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. (Catechism 2221-2231). 

The 4th Commandment gives clear guidance and warns, it is either reverence or there will be ruin. 

Here’s a quirky little video from 1950. It’s rather hokey actually but it’s a neat glimpse from the past, idealized to be sure but the basic message is great.

5 Responses

  1. Cynthia BC says:

    Most people, when asked to recite the 4th commandment, will say “Honor thy father and thy mother.” If asked about the REST of the commandment, the response typically is a blank stare.

    Here is Luther’s take on the rest of the commandment:

    Over and above all this, another great reason that should incite us the more [to obedience to this commandment] is that God attaches to this commandment a temporal promise and says: That thou mayest live long upon the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee.

    Here you can see yourself how much God is in earnest in respect to this commandment, inasmuch as He not only declares that it is well pleasing to Him, and that He has joy and delight therein; but also that it shall be for our prosperity and promote our highest good; so that we may have a pleasant and agreeable life, furnished with every good thing. Therefore also St. Paul greatly emphasizes the same and rejoices in it when he says, Eph. 6, 2. 3: This is the first commandment with promise: That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. For although the rest also have their promises contained in them, yet in none is it so plainly and explicitly stated.

    Here, then, you have the fruit and the reward, that whoever observes this commandment shall have happy days, fortune, and prosperity; and on the other hand, the punishment, that whoever is disobedient shall the sooner perish, and never enjoy life. For to have long life in the sense of the Scriptures is not only to become old, but to have everything which belongs to long life, such as health, wife, and children, livelihood, peace, good government, etc., without which this life can neither be enjoyed in cheerfulness nor long endure. If, therefore, you will not obey father and mother and submit to their discipline, then obey the hangman; if you will not obey him, then submit to the skeleton-man, i.e., death [death the all-subduer, the teacher of wicked children]. For on this God insists peremptorily: Either if you obey Him rendering love and service, He will reward you abundantly with all good, or if you offend Him, He will send upon you both death and the hangman.

    Whence come so many knaves that must daily be hanged, beheaded, broken upon the wheel, but from disobedience [to parents], because they will not submit to discipline in kindness, so that, by the punishment of God, they bring it about that we behold their misfortune and grief? For it seldom happens that such perverse people die a natural or timely death.

  2. jj says:

    Amen Cynthia! You go girl, talk about it.

  3. Hugh says:

    An excellent post. I couldn’t agree more. I think a large chunk of the problem stems from the fact that a lot of parents want to be regarded as their child’s friend and in doing so abdicate their parental responsibilities. There is also the problem that modern society insists that children should be regarded effectively as little adults. Then of course there is the inherent selfishness endlessly promoted throughout the whole spectrum of the media and literature. The systematic destruction of the primacy of the nuclear family poses the greatest threat to societies throughout the world.

  4. jj says:

    Side Bar: 3 people responded to this article and 171 responses to a previous article on how we should dress in church. Just something to think about. Plus an addition 80 plus responses in a follow up article on attire. This gives me a lot to ponder.

  5. esiul says:

    Great post Mons. and jj’s remark about the responses. Sure does make you ponder. If only more mothers could stay home with their children. I’m not talking about those who like to be out of the house, but those mothers who have to work in this economy, and there are so many. That one issue alone would help families from falling apart and children on their own after school. It is a difficult choice, more often no choice.

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