As most of you know, I’ve been spending some time each week this year in making visits to the streets and homes of our parishioners, in order to try to get to know the parish better. It is lovely to pop in to your homes, even for just a few minutes, to see where you live, and to bring a word of peace and faith to your afternoon. Jesus also saw the benefit of this, as He sent out an extra 72 to go ahead of him to the villages and towns, to see people in their homes, and to proclaim, in each place, “Peace to this house!” We think also of how Jesus Himself, as a boy and a young man, spent those 30 years in the family home at Nazareth. Our Lord Jesus has great respect for the family and the home: it is crucially a part of God’s plan for His human creation.
The Church always maintains that it is the family that is the smallest unit of the Church, not the parish … the family is the “domestic Church,” the Church in miniature. That is why the Church defends marriage and family life as not only some useful living arrangement, but in fact fundamental to human life and the basis of society. This is what the 4th Commandment protects and regulates: family life, the duties and responsibilities of children and parents; and also of other legitimate authorities like Government.
The basic wording of the 4th Commandment is “Honour your father and mother,” and this is in itself important, but it goes way beyond just that. The family, the unit of a man and a woman, committed in marriage, and with any children God may grant them, is the most basic building block of society. No-one has a right to interfere or experiment with that — not Government or civil authority. In fact, the State should uphold and protect marriage between a man and a woman, and the normal family life that results from that union; and also protect the rights of parents as the first educators of their children, and with freedom too to express their religious faith.
Children, in normal circumstances, should obey and respect their parents — except, of course, if they are being asked to do something that is immoral, when they must to the best of their ability disobey. Even when they are older, and maybe left home, it’s still true that they should respect their parents, even if they no longer have a duty to be obedient to them as such. Children should be allowed to choose their profession, and their spouse, freely, and without undue pressure from their parents. Nevertheless, their advice and opinion is wisely sought. And in their parents’ old age, the fourth commandment comes into its own: we must love and care for our elderly parents, making sure that they are safe and well cared-for, not lonely, cold or hungry. We are duty-bound before God to be vigilant as to the welfare of our elderly parents, even though this can sometimes be a long and tiring work, sometimes drawn out over many years — but it is a task of great holiness and will bring many blessings.
Parents have a duty of care to their children, that extends beyond just the material provision for them. Above all, in the Christian context, they have a duty to create a ‘domestic Church’ — somewhere that is a place of prayer and upbringing in the faith, where they learn about Jesus, about prayer, as well as promoting Christian goodness, and the avoidance of the many immoral things that surround us in TV, magazines, internet … In the home they must inculcate a love of service: to the youngest and oldest, the sick and infirm, the one who is poor and vulnerable. From one’s earliest days, one’s parents’ example is crucial; and it should be an example of selfless service, charity, forgiveness, giving … The family is the school in which children learn the basics of moral life, and of spiritual formation. The family is the school for life: coming from a good, caring, praying family, one’s child has a good hope to enter the world at large as a good citizen, ready to give one’s life in a service to humanity; but also to enter the world a good Catholic Christian — a person who loves and believes in God; prays and loves the Lord in the Sacraments, especially the Mass. And, also, from a family founded on the 4th Commandment, will come, if God wills, vocations not only to good marriages, but also to priesthood and religious life. From good marriages and families comes a good parish, and a good society. Let us build up the morals and faith of our nation by starting with an effort to keep the 4th commandment well: to devote ourselves to the faith and morals of our children.