The traditional and stable family, the basic unit of society, used to be defined as made up of a husband, a wife and their children. However, it is becoming an outdated, old-fashioned reality. In general, families these days are fluid structures made weak by pressures coming from work, lifestyles, personal development, likes and dislikes.
How can the family be saved in a world where dysfunctionality seems to be normal? The proposal of the fourth Commandment, I believe, is a privileged means for the missionary Church to answer God’s call for her to act in order to save the family.
Pope Francis points out that the fourth Commandment is the only Commandment that contains a reward: “Honor your father and your mother as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”(Deuteronomy 5:16) I have the impression that God mentioned the reward of this Commandment to stress its importance and to encourage His people to keep it.
Honor Owed to Parents
The fourth Commandment speaks of the honor owed to parents and Pope Francis asks: “What is this honor?” And he says: “The Hebrew term indicates glory, value, literally ‘importance’ consistent with reality… Thus, honoring our father and our mother means recognizing their importance with practical actions which express dedication, affection and care.” It means giving them value and respect even if we disagree with them. It rules out entirely any attitude where we reject our parents and consider them as worthless.
In fact, presenting this Commandment, the Bible does not say that for children to honor their fathers and mothers, they must have great merits and be perfect. Pope Francis has mentioned the names of several saints who had a difficult childhood, but never denied their parents.
Parents Delegated by God
The most basic reason for honoring fathers and mothers is the fact that, through them, children have received life from God, thanks to a proxy given by Him to them. Parents are delegated by God to give life. Thus, to honor them means honoring God who, through them, enables us to have and to celebrate life.
The honor that children must give their parents is not a natural fact, but it is the fruit of education and growth, and so it is the respect that the parents must have for their children.
And so we ask: how can parents learn to respect and love their children and children learn to respect and love their parents? The following are some principles of family life:
Learning to reflect about the different family situations without waiting for the time when we hit family crises. This is important in order to learn how to live in a family in ways which are more creative.
Learning to be fair: it is so easy to be unfair because of uncontrolled emotions. For example, a father becomes unfair when he compares a son with a daughter, treats the son with more affection than the daughter and gives him preferential treatment. A son is unfair when he compares his parents with other parents.
Learning to communicate: it seems that a lot of talking in families today is simply saying words, not speaking to each other. It is communication that enables two or more persons to create a meaningful encounter.
Learning to forgive: we need to be givers and receivers of grace, kindness and forgiveness. If we are not, then not only do we carry hurts and wounds around with us, but we also pass them on to others.
Respecting the freedom of each family member. For example, parents must respect the freedom of a son and a daughter when there is a special call from God for them. We can think about the call to Priesthood or Religious Life.
Living in the light of the above principles, children accept, appreciate, affirm and never abandon their parents. And parents simply love their children.