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Why Should I Honor my Parents?

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Here’s the text from Aquinas read in today’s show:

Perfection for man consists in the love of God and of neighbor. Now, the three Commandments which were written on the first tablet pertain to the love of God; for the love of neighbor there were the seven Commandments on the second tablet. But we must “love, not in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth” [1 Jn 3]. For a man to love thus, he must do two things, namely, avoid evil and do good. Certain of the Commandments prescribe good acts, while others forbid evil deeds. And we must also know that to avoid evil is in our power; but we are incapable of doing good to everyone. Thus, St. Augustine says that we should love all, but we are not bound to do good to all. But among those to whom we are bound to do good are those in some way united to us. Thus, “if any man does not take care of his own, especially of those of his house, he has denied the faith” [1 Tim 5:8]. Now, amongst all our relatives there are none closer than our father and mother. “We ought to love God first,” says St. Ambrose, “then our father and mother.” Hence, God has given us the Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.”

The Philosopher also gives another reason for this honor to parents, in that we cannot make an equal return to our parents for the great benefits they have granted to us; and, therefore, an offended parent has the right to send his son away, but the son has no such right [Ethics V]. Parents, indeed, give their children three things. The first is that they brought them into being: “Honor your father, and forget not the groanings of your mother; remember that through them you were born” [Sir 7:29-30]. Secondly, they furnished nourishment and the support necessary for life. For a child comes naked into the world, as Job relates (1:24), but he is provided for by his parents. The third is instruction: “We have had fathers of our flesh for instructors” [Hb 12:9]. “Do you have children? Instruct them” [Sir 7:25].

Parents, therefore, should give instruction without delay to their children, because “a young man according to his way, even when he is old will not depart from it” [Prov 22:6]. And again: “It is good for a man when he has borne the yoke from his youth” [Lam 3:27]. Now, the instruction which Tobias gave his son (Tob 4) was this: to fear the Lord and to abstain from sin. This is indeed contrary to those parents who approve of the misdeeds of their children. Children, therefore, receive from their parents birth, nourishment, and instruction.

Now, because we owe our birth to our parents, we ought to honor them more than any other superiors, because from such we receive only temporal things: “He who fears the Lord honors his parents, and will serve them as his masters that brought him into the world. Honor your father in work and word and all patience, that a blessing may come upon you from him” [Sir 3:10]. And in doing this you shall also honor thyself, because “the glory of a man is from honor of his father, and a father without honor is the disgrace of his son” [Sir 3:13].

Again, since we receive nourishment from our parents in our childhood, we must support them in their old age: “Son, support the old age of your father, and grieve him not in his life. And if his understanding fail, have patience with him; and do not despise him when you are in your strength… Of what an evil fame is he who forsakes his father! And he is cursed of God who angers his mother” [Sir 3:14,15]. For the humiliation of those who act contrary to this, Cassiodorus relates how young storks, when the parents have lost their feathers by approaching old age and are unable to find suitable food, make the parent storks comfortable with their own feathers, and bring back food for their worn-out bodies. Thus, by this affectionate exchange the young ones repay the parents for what they received when they were young” [Epist. II].

We must obey our parents, for they have instructed us. “Children, obey your parents in all things” [Col 3:20]. This excepts, of course, those things which are contrary to God. St. Jerome says that the only loyalty in such cases is to be cruel [Ad Heliod]: “If any man hate not his father and mother… he cannot be My disciple” [Lk 14:26]. This is to say that God is in the truest sense our Father: “Is not He your Father who possessed you, made you and created you?” [Deut 32:6].

“Honor your father and your mother.” Among all the Commandments, this one only has the additional words: “that you may be long-lived upon the land.” The reason for this is lest it be thought that there is no reward for those who honor their parents, seeing that it is a natural obligation. Hence it must be known that five most desirable rewards are promised those who honor their parents.

Grace and Glory.—The first reward is grace for the present life, and glory in the life to come, which surely are greatly to be desired: “Honor your father… that a blessing may come upon you from God, and His blessing may remain in the latter end” [Sir 3:9-10]. The very opposite comes upon those who dishonor their parents; indeed, they are cursed in the law by God [Deut 27:16]. It is also written: “He who is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in what is greater” [Lk 16:10]. But this our natural life is as nothing compared with the life of grace. And so, therefore, if you do not acknowledge the blessing of the natural life which you owe to your parents, then you are unworthy of the life of grace, which is greater, and all the more so for the life of glory, which is the greatest of all blessings.

A Long Life.—The second reward is a long life: “That you may be long-lived upon the land.” For “he who honors his father shall enjoy a long life” [Sir 3:7]. Now, that is a long life which is a full life, and it is not observed in time but in activity, as the Philosopher observes. Life, however, is full inasmuch as it is a life of virtue; so a man who is virtuous and holy enjoys a long life even if in body he dies young: “Being perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time; for his soul pleased God” [Wis 4:13]. Thus, for example, he is a good merchant who does as much business in one day as another would do in a year. And note well that it sometimes happens that a long life may lead up to a spiritual as well as a bodily death, as was the case with Judas. Therefore, the reward for keeping this Commandment is a long life for the body. But the very opposite, namely, death is the fate of those who dishonor their parents. We receive our life from them; and just as the soldiers owe fealty to the king, and lose their rights in case of any treachery, so also they who dishonor their parents deserve to forfeit their lives: “The eye that mocks his father and despises the labor of his mother in bearing him, let the ravens pick it out, and the young eagles eat it” [Prov 30:17]. Here “the ravens” signify officials of kings and princes, who in turn are the “young eagles.” But if it happens that such are not bodily punished, they nevertheless cannot escape death of the soul. It is not well, therefore, for a father to give too much power to his children: “Do not give to a son or wife, brother or friend, power over you while you live; and do not give your estate to another, lest you repent” [Sir 33:20].

The third reward is to have in turn grateful and pleasing children. For a father naturally treasures his children, but the contrary is not always the case: “He who honors his father shall have joy in his own children” [Sir 3:6]. Again: “With what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you again” [Mt 7:2]. The fourth reward is a praiseworthy reputation: “For the glory of a man is from the honor of his father” [Sir 3:13]. And again: “Of what an evil fame is he who forsakes his father?” [Sir 3:18]. A fifth reward is riches: “The father’s blessing establishes the houses of his children, but the mother’s curse roots up the foundation” [Sir 3:11].

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