Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Fourth Commandment

Requested by at least a couple of people, written for our parish bulletin. At loooong last I have had the time and our bulletin has had the room for the series to begin again.
Living our faith in the real world
The Fourth Commandment:
Honor your father and mother.
The first three Commandments are about honoring God and understanding ourselves in relationship to and with Him. The last seven commandments are about honoring other people and understanding ourselves in relationship to and with them. It is here that God instructs us in what Jesus later summed up so perfectly in John 13:34: “Love one another even as I have loved you.” It makes sense, therefore, that the first of these commandments would begin with our relationship with the people who brought us into the world and taught us to understand it – our parents.

At its most basic, this commandment boils down to two terms that are key to Christian living but tend to challenge Americans greatly, authority and obedience. If we obey our parents, then we are accepting their authority over our wishes in a way that may not always be agreeable. We may be allowing them to make decisions we would rather make for ourselves and feel that they are not qualified to make. Certainly, obeying or even respecting a parent may be irksome no matter what the age. Our first reaction is often rebellion.

It is here we may practice in real life what we often merely give lip service to in our relationship with God. We are offered the opportunity to respect, love, and trust those other people in our lives so much that we relinquish control. At all ages this encourages us to look past the immediate possible annoyance to a greater good, whether that greater good is considering unsolicited advice or something as simple as taking out the trash. In turn, this may help us to reflect upon our relationship with God through those very practices. Do we trust His love and care for us even when our lives are taking turns that we do not understand or, often, appreciate?

Church teachings on this subject have considered such larger issues as citizens’ duty to civil authority and the family as the foundation of society. These too have their place in our meditations, as we see in the examination of conscience below. However, at the heart of this commandment we see the fundamental call of love, both of God’s love for us and our expression of that love as we interact with each other in our families.

It can be helpful to examine our consciences in light of this consideration. The examination below is offered in that spirit. 

Examination of Conscience**: 4th Commandment
•    Do I obey and respect my parents or legitimate superiors?
•    Do I give good religious example to my family?
•    Do I give my children proper food, clothing, shelter, education, discipline and care?
•    Do I actively take an interest in the religious education and formation of my children?
•    Do I educate myself on the true teachings of the Church?
•    Do I pray with and for my children?
•    Do I cause tension and fights in my family?
•    Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?
•    Do I give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay?
•    Do I give a fair wage to my employees?
•    Do I live in humble obedience to those who legitimately exercise authority over me?

*    Deut 5:16; Mk 7:10
** An examination of conscience is not intended to be a checklist used only in preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation. The purpose is to help souls know what actions or attitudes are sinful and realize the gravity of committing them. This may help in avoidance or in turning away from sin and towards God and joy.

There’s a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so that their holiness will be perceived.  Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so that the holiness of time can be experienced. Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of the mother and father, who usually labor and are heavy-laden, and may be cranky or stingy or ignorant or overbearing.  Believe me, I know this can be a hard Commandment to keep.  But the rewards of obedience are great, because at the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

… God designed these human relationships to be a dance between equals playing different roles, not a power struggle between unequals for the same “top” role. It is to be like the Trinity. When God the Son became a man, he revealed to us the Trinitiarian nature of God as a love relationship among three equal Persons who are nevertheless related on an order of authority and obedience. The Son “obeys” the Father in all things. He thus radically changed our understanding of both authority and obedience and corrected our natural misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is to confuse authority with power; and obedience with inferiority, weakness, or servility. The misunderstanding comes from using the world’s point of view instead of God’s. The world treasures power; God treasures goodness. Authority in the biblical sense is not a power word but a goodness word. It means right, not might.
Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft


  1. Tante Leonie1/26/10, 3:12 PM

    This is an area where Mother Church's pronouncements get on my nerves, to tell you the truth.

    I have a hard time with this, as my family of origin is floridly dysfunctional.

    Sometimes parents are just wicked and toxic and one must get away from them.

    Of course, this is a hot button issue with me, so maybe I'm just not getting the nuances.

  2. Ok, I can't find your email address ... but I know you have mine. Please write as I really want to take this a bit further. :-)

    However, I will say that I understand very well struggling with this issue.

    I also will say that this is not just Mother Church.

    This is the 4th of the 10 Commandments. The first commandment that deals with our relationship with other people instead of with God Himself.

    Given to Moses by God Himself.

    So at the very least, it seems to me that we need to try to work through it in some way. It really helped me to read through the Catechism on this point, especially as it is pointed out that there is a two-way street between parents and children.

    Also, I try to keep in mind that sometimes the best we can do is to pray for those who we cannot get any closer to without damage. That is true charity.

    However, that is a whole other subject. I just didn't have room for it in the constraints of the bulletin insert page.

  3. Tante Leonie1/27/10, 3:44 AM

    Apologies for my crankiness.

    Sent you an email.

  4. Andreas Nielsen / Denmark3/3/11, 10:49 AM

    I really like this post and I fully agree.

    I was disrespectful to my stepdad and felt terrible afterwards, so I went to my room and googled "4th commandment catholic" and found this blog. It completely makes sense to me, and I should have taken a deep breath and been patient. I'll go tell him I'm truly sorry right now. Thank you.

    God bless!