Every child’s least favorite response from there mom or dad is “because I said so.” Parents tell their kids what to do (or not do) all the time – get out of bed, stop hitting your sister, clean up the dishes. And parents have every right to tell their kids what to do. Unless a parent’s commandment contradicts the law of God, children are bound to obey their parents. Sometimes a parent’s motive for a commandment cannot be understood by a child, so “because I said so” is actually the easiest way to get a point across!
All human beings should have a natural love and respect for their parents. A parent’s love and devotion is repaid over the years by the affection of their children, and eventually by being cared for by their children. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that there are three people that we owe an eternal debt to: God, our mother, and our father. This is because no matter what we do, we can never “pay back” the love that they have shown us, like we could with a friend or even a spouse. God and our parents chose to give us the gift of life itself, and we owe our very existence to them. In the Ten Commandments, the fourth commandment of honoring father and mother serves as a sort of bridge between respect for God and respect for others, because the honor we show our parents is similar to the love we show God, although in a lesser degree.
As St. Paul points out in his letter to the Ephesians, the fourth commandment is the first one to contain a promise: “Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Deuteronomy 5:16). I don’t take this to literally mean that every person who honors their parents will leave to be old. Rather, I see it as a spiritually reality, that those who honor their parents truly have the gift of wisdom and charity, which is a great sign of spiritual maturity. In heaven, our love and devotion for our parents will “live long” as we worship God alongside our parents.
Honoring our parents is a constant theme throughout the scriptures and seems to be a sign of the true faith. The book of Sirach commands us, “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). At a certain point, the parent-child relationship changes, and adults no longer owe their parents strict obedience as they did when they were children. In fact, as some children mature, they see their own parents’ flaws more clearly, and do not desire to imitate those flaws in their own life. In some tragic cases of abusive parents, it may even be healthy to set firm boundaries in the relationship for a period of time or for life. However, even when we see that our parents aren’t perfect, we still must honor them and not disrespect them through gossip, slander, or harboring ill will. A child’s love for his or her parents can shine forth most clearly towards the end of the parent’s life. Many people struggle mightily at the end of their lives with physical or mental deficiencies, and it is always inspiring to me to see them being cared for by their children in their hardest times. There isn’t a perfect blueprint for caring for aging parents. Some families function fine by caring for elderly parents at their home, while others have no other option than to utilize a nursing facility. Whatever path is chosen, we should always make it a priority to make sure our parents’ needs are taken care of.
Honor for our parents does not even end in death. After the death of a parent, we should do our best to honor their final wishes in terms of their estate and property. Even more important is caring for our parents spiritually in death. We should pray for the repose of the soul of our parents when they have passed on, and we could ask a priest to offer a Mass for them every once in a while. The Mass is a powerful form of prayer, and if you haven’t had a Mass offered for your decease parents, I encourage you to do so. You can call the parish office and ask to have their names added to the Mass intention calendar. A ten-dollar donation is typical but not required if you are not able to afford it. In any case, let us always remember to pray for our parents and ancestors in our daily prayers. By doing so, we will truly be honoring our mother and our father.