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How does the Fourth Commandment apply to family life?

txt-20fourthcommand-usccaHonor your father and your mother.

—CCC, nos. 2196-2257

The Fourth Commandment deals with all aspects of family life— parental and filial duties and responsibilities, that is, those of love from child to parent. This includes the duties of children toward their parents, the duties of brothers and sisters toward each other, and the responsibilities of adult children toward their older parents. This Commandment also addresses the duties of government and the duties of citizens (cf. CCC, nos. 2234-2246), including the responsibility of the state and society to foster family values and to strengthen the family in every possible way.

The Catholic family as a domestic church is the fundamental community or cell of the parish, the diocese, and the universal Church. Christ has called all family members to union with God through Baptism and the other Sacraments and to share in the mission of the whole Church. Family members carry out the Church’s mission by fostering mutual love in the home and, through that love, by building up the community of the Church and society.

Respect for parents derives from a grateful heart toward those who gave us the gift of life and nourished, loved, and supported us throughout all our stages of growth. Filial love is shown by genuine obedience from children to their parents while living in their parents’ home and by responsible concern of grown children toward their elderly parents.

With your whole heart honor your father; / your mother’s birth pangs forget not. / Remember, of these parents you were born; / what can you give them for all they gave you? (Sir 7:27-28)

God offers each member of the family the grace for creating family solidarity so that it may grow as a domestic church. Parents utilize the energies of their love, their education, and their experience for their children. In this way, they make a positive and essential contribution toward building a truly human and Christian family. Children respond in love and should work to reduce rivalries, angers, hurts, and hostilities among brothers and sisters.

Adult children of elderly parents are asked to care for them with a generous heart: “Listen to your father who begot you, / and despise not your mother when she is old” (Prv 23:22). The family remains a major source of support for the elderly. The elderly who have no adult children should be helped by the considerate care of others.

While adult children may sometimes experience a strain between raising their own children and caring for their parents, they must do what they can to help their parents. Still, not only do adult children help their parents, but many of the elderly parents also help their adult children by their continuing love, their example, and the benefit of their lifetime experience. While it is right for society to help care for the elderly, the family remains the rightful source of support.

Parents exercise their love for their children by caring for their physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and moral needs. Concern for these needs takes much time and commitment on the part of both mother and father. Giving proper example to children is the most powerful form of childrearing. Helping children to grow in virtue contributes to their character formation. Inspirational stories, good parental example, and repetition of acts of virtue are basic ways of forming the young.

Parents should teach their children to pray by praying with them from their earliest years. Parents, as the first and primary educators, must also ensure their children’s Catholic religious education and regular participation in Mass and other aspects of parish life. Sharing with them the lives of the saints, bringing them to church, helping them to participate in the Mass, and encouraging them to go to Confession are necessary ways to help children grow in faith. Catholic schools and parish religious education programs can help parents fulfill their responsibility to educate their children in the Catholic faith. Parents are encouraged to use Catholic schools and parish programs whenever possible.

Parental example in all these areas is essential, for the young need to see a living faith in those they love. Emphasis on fundamental elements of the faith—such as fostering a relationship with Christ and devotion to Mary, the angels, and saints, along with love and concern for everyone they meet—gradually forms the religious life of the young in a productive and creative way.

When children become adults, they assume the responsibility of how they will live and work. Parents should not exert undue pressure on their children when the children are faced with these decisions (cf. CCC, no. 2230). However, since parents often know their children well, they can direct their children to make decisions in harmony with their gifts and education. Since the family is the domestic church, it is fitting that parents always encourage their children to make life decisions with serious consideration about the best ways to live out their faith. Parents, by their own faith and commitment to the Church, create an environment in their homes that is conducive to helping children begin to think about a religious vocation. They should not hesitate to invite a son or daughter to consider becoming a priest or a vowed religious. In particular, parents should always encourage and support a child who is discerning such a call.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.