When we think of the Fourth Commandment, we understandably think of the duties of children toward their parents, given the words of the Commandment itself: "Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." (Ex 20:12; Deut 5:6) The Fourth Commandment obliges children to love, respect and obey their parents because parents have been charged by God with the care of their children.
But this Commandment also covers the obligations of parents toward their children. The family is the "domestic church," or the Church in miniature. That means that the family is a community of faith, hope and charity. These are the "theological virtues,'" gifts of grace which allow us to participate in the life of God and which form the basis of all Christian life. Thus, the actions of parents in forming in the soul and character of each child are guided by faith, hope and charity-the virtues which we need to achieve our salvation.
Perhaps the most important thing that parents give to their children is a proper understanding of how to love and how to receive love. God's plan for marriage is that the family is to be an icon of the Holy Trinity, a community of self- giving, self-sacrificing love. The love between the Father and the Son is so strong that it is indeed a person, the Holy Spirit. The love of husband and wife produces a child. The child learns about the nature of love from the way the husband loves his wife and the way the wife loves her husband. The example of the parents in patience, understanding, gentleness, compassion, sacrifice, and forgiveness will shape the child's heart for good or bad, as almost nothing else can. On the other hand, if a parent is harsh, selfish, willful, or stubborn, he or she should not be surprised to discover these traits in their child.
The human heart is made to give and receive love. If the heart does not love in the right way, the desire does not go away, so there is a danger that the heart will love in a disordered way. How does this apply specifically to parents and their children? Something that parents should value, foster and protect in children is their virginity. Virginity is a precious flower, a precious gift to be given either to God in the priesthood or religious life or to one's spouse in marriage...and no one else. An example of unselfish, faithful generous love in the home between husband and wife, and between parents and children, provides the essential foundation for protecting the chastity of our young people. A child who is not the beneficiary of such an example may very well look for human affection and consolation in a manner that will harm his or her heart and soul. But an authentic Christian life of faith, hope and charity in the home will go far in preventing such grave danger.
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