The fourth commandment of the Lord

Honour thy father and thy mother

Life has become highly competitive these days and we have to spend a large part of our energy and time trying to earn enough to support our family. In the process we tend to overlook the plight of one important group of people who are responsible for what we are today – our aged parents.

When we were children we were taught the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment “Honour your father and mother” was of special significance to us as our parents were everything to us at that time.

I still remember week after week we went for confession and the most common sin was disobeying our parents and being rude to them. Very often we were angry with them for not allowing us to do as we wished, forcing us to study and reprimanding us when we do something wrong. Despite all the punishment that they meted out on us for our various offences, there was no doubt in our minds of their love and concern for us under all circumstances.

We can recollect the sleepless nights they spent taking care of us when we were sick, the moments of anxiety they went through when we were involved in some accidents and the tears they shed during intense prayer for our recovery.

We remember the strenuous labour and the mental stress they endured to earn a meager income to provide us with some basic comforts in life and a decent education, which they themselves were denied. All they lived for was the well being of our future not theirs. They did all that without any ulterior motive that one day we will repay that gratitude.

Today many of us are parents ourselves and only now fully appreciate the extent of love parents have for their own children. We understand the pain and anxiety we have to endure when our children suffer from all forms of ailments and failures in their lives. We realize the severity of the heartache when our children refuse to heed our advice and meet disaster as a result.

Some of us may be unfortunate to have our children inflicted with terminal illness and we are aware of the tremendous pain it causes everyday. Some of our parents too would have undergone such great torment in their lives.

Today many of us may are successful and are better off in life than our parents. Many, even our friends and relatives, would be jealous of our achievements especially when we are better than them. The only people who feel proud when we overtake them will be our parents. The joy and happiness that accompanies the successes of our children are immense and insurmountable.

We may have grown older and become more successful but sin against the fourth commandment, honour your father and mother, is still our common weakness although we may not realize it. In our later life, disobedience to parents is expressed in the form of negligence and apathy towards them when they become incapacitated and of no use to us.

We become calculative among the siblings of who should take care and provide for them when they are no more in a position to earn. When they become ill or handicapped we conveniently pass the responsibility of caring for them to others. We give the excuse we are too busy and have no time and no money. I admit it is not easy to take care of elderly parents who are invalid, especially in a fast moving materialistic world, but we fail to realise it is our responsibility and ours alone. We cannot run away from it.

The greatest fear among elderly people is loneliness. This is particularly true for those who have lost their spouses and are all alone in this cruel world. For many of them, it is not money, gifts or food that they need. All they ask for is the love of fellow humans in particular their children and grandchildren, to spare some time for them.

The strange thing is that this fear is also a feature when we were children. As a child when we were fearful to be alone, our parents were there to console and reassure us. They did that willingly and with great love and passion.

But when they are in living in fear at the twilight of their lives, we as children are not there to comfort them. We are too busy with our jobs and families. We blame the fast moving and competitive society we live in.

It is shocking that even we as Christians sometimes shun away from this responsibility to our aged parents. We are too busy with church activities and pray hard that God will send somebody to take of them. We have the misguided notion that prayer alone without a heart and without lifting a finger would work miracles to provide the love longed for by our elderly parents.

As children do we recognize their needs and try our utmost to fulfill them or are we too preoccupied with our church rituals and pray that God will take care of them? One thing I am convinced; God does not come in person to do that. He works through His creations like you and me. If we just pray and wait for God’s miracle, we will be sadly disappointed.

Very often we, the children and priests are quick to anoint the sick and dying when in coma and subsequently give them a grand funeral service. We even offer masses and hold elaborate memorial services for the dead but lack the same enthusiasm in being supportive and being with them when they were alive.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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