Feast of the Holy Family
December 27, 2015
Respect For Elders
The patrons at the restaurant hardly noticed the younger man walk in, but it was hard to ignore the older man who was with him. He walked with a shuffle that denoted age and arthritis. They sat down at a table for two. Throughout the meal, the older man needed help cutting his food, continuously dropped bites onto his tie and his dress shirt, but the younger man patiently helped him and wiped his mouth when his fork missed its mark.
After watching this for some time, the waiter came up to the younger man and remarked, “I find it so inspiring that you are helping your father like that.”
The younger man shrugged and said, “It’s no different than what he did for me. He cut my food, cleaned my messes, and was patient with me.” Well put!
On this Feast of the Holy Family, I would like to reflect on the Fourth Commandment. We’re all familiar with it – but how is it lived out?
First, let’s look at what it says: “Honor your father and your mother.” We’re all familiar with that part, but in the Scriptures, that commandment has a second part as well: “…so that you may have a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This is the only commandment with a promise! God has promised that he who honors his parents will be abundantly blessed. It’s also important to realize that this commandment comes directly after the ones which deal with God. It’s as if saying, “After God, the persons we owe the most love and respect to is our parents.”
Honoring your parents looks differently based upon what your state in life is. If you are under 18 years old, honoring your parents means obeying them. We don’t often talk about obedience – but it is a hugely important virtue! When we are young, disobeying our parents is akin to disobeying God, since God put our parents over us as His representatives. So, young people, when your parents tell you to turn off the X-box, do so! I’ll bet if Jesus Himself told you to do something, you’d do it without question. Well, our parents have been given to us to take the place of Jesus – so obey them without temper tantrums and trouble!
Also, consider today’s Gospel. If Jesus – who was the perfect Son of God – could obey His human parents, how much more should we obey ours!
Of course, we do not need to obey our parents if they tell us to do something sinful or forbid us from following God. I know a teen whose parents refused to take him to Mass, so he walked there instead. Our obedience is to God first – parents second.
When we leave the house as an adult, we do not owe our parents obedience – but we do owe them respect. That means we ask their opinions and listen to their advice, we speak kindly to them, we help them in their needs. This is especially true as our population continues to grow older – stats show that by the year 2050, about 20% of our American population will be elderly, while a hundred years ago it was only 4% of our population! It is our responsibility, as far as we are able, to take care of our parents in their hour of need.
I remember when I was in college, I went with some college friends to visit a nursing home one time. We had a nice visit with the residents, and as we were leaving, I noticed a woman beaming a bright smile. I asked her why she was so joyful, and she explained to me that one of the other students volunteered to visit her on a regular basis. She said, “I’m so happy! I’m finally not alone!”
It broke my heart to hear that, but it was very telling. Why are so many people lonely in nursing homes? Because we don’t visit our own family members. This is part of honoring our fathers and mothers – to take care of them in their time of need.
For those whose parents have passed on, we can still honor them! Visiting their graves, having Masses offered for their intentions, and praying for them are ways in which we can honor them.
In addition to our parents, we also need to respect all of our elderly family members. We live in a culture that worships youth – over the course of a lifetime, the average American spends over $15,000 on beauty products to make us look younger. All the time, we see ads – “this diet will take ten years off your age!” But there is a great gift in our elders – they are living histories, full of wisdom to pass along to us.
After all, Jesus – who knew everything – chose to learn from and obey His parents and the elders in the Temple. If it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for us!